A Rs 2.13 crore irrigation project approved by the Planning Commission in 1979 was initiated by Sheikh Abdullah in 1981, and was about three decades later inaugurated by his grandson, Omar Abdullah, in 2009. By now, it has taken almost Rs 70 crore but is still incomplete forcing governor’s administration to hunt for additional Rs 2.38 crores from the centre, reports Muhammad Younis
In July 2009, the then Chief Minister inaugurated a water lifting plant at Larkipora (Awantipora), situated on the banks of river Jhelum. Heading through the canals, when the water lifted from the river, finally reached the fields of the farmers living in the belt towards the heights, it was as though a panacea for their longtime irrigation woes. It took them no time in clearing their fields occupied with apple trees. All they wanted was to see paddy growing in their fields again, just like they used to during their childhood. But that was not the case. Soon, they were re-planting the apple trees.
The Midura village, situated in the shades of Vasturvan mountains, was one among the expected beneficiary of this project. Comprising more than 1000 households, the majority (70%) of the population has farming as their main occupation. On an average, each family owns at least, five kanals of land. Some have bigger plots; one farmer owns a 700-kanals huge estate.
From the very early in past, when people began to inhabit this belt and the adjacent villages, the source of water was natural. On foot, the farmers would go uphill and bring water from an affluent spring Chral’e Naag situated in village Pastun. The water would reach them through small streams.
“Like on annual basis, five to ten people would be selected from each village, and they used to clear the streams from the silt and,” said Muhammad Ramzaan Dar, a septuagenarian resident. A couple of times in his life, Dar was part of such a group. “And this water was sufficient enough to irrigate our paddy fields.” Then, the villagers used to cultivate their fields with paddy and a part with maize.
Almost 50 years ago, the discharge reduced. The gradual receding of water level touched such a low that it impacted the crop pattern. Farmers shifted to horticulture after the village literally experienced a drought like situation. “For initial few years, we cultivated maize and later planted almond trees, which needed less water. Finally, apple trees were introduced,” a resident said.
Unlike paddy, the crop shift was not satisfactory. “We would get enough paddies from our land to feed our family, but due to the scarcity of water, when we had to plant almond trees in the land, it did not serve the purpose,” said a resident of Chek, Tral. “We were unable to cultivate mustard and vegetables, making us poorer with time.”
Apple and almond trees do not pay off immediately owing to longer gestation periods. For several years, the growers were just taking care of these trees: spraying pesticides etc with no immediate returns.
The concern was felt in the state’s policy-making circuit. Almost three decades ago, the Larkipora water lifting plant was announced. Though still incomplete, it was finally inaugurated by Omar Abdullah, the grandson of Sheikh, in 2009. It, as though, “breathed a new life” into the farmers. They were too optimistic that the irrigation scheme would hugely benefit and help them in returning to paddy cultivation forever. “Right away, after the inauguration of the plant, almost everybody in our village removed the apple trees they had planted in their fields,” said Parvaiz Ahmad, a Midoora resident. “Although my trees then needed just a year or two to yield, still I cut them down as all I wanted was to cultivate paddy.”
The project took a long time in its (partial) completion, and quickly it failed in serving its purpose. “For just two or three years after the inauguration, we received water in abundant quantities in our fields, but after that, it dried up,” said Parvaiz. “Last year, some residents did cultivate paddy in our village, but during 2018, when we didn’t receive even a small quantity of water in our fields, almost the whole village went for planting the apple trees again.”
Seemingly, there is a miscommunication between the authorities and the farmers. The farmers, who cut their orchards for paddy cultivation, believe that the project was intended for rice. But authorities have a different say. “The water lifting plant was intended to provide water for orchards, not paddy,” said Muhammad Shafi Bhat, assistant executive of the project.
Actually, with the help of ex-MLA Tral Muhammad Subhan Bhat, the foundation of Larkipora water-lifting plant was laid in 1981 by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. The first estimate of funds for the project to complete was a little more than Rs 2.13 crores. So far, around Rs 70 crore stands spent, But it still has one chunk not taken up at all.
From the beginning, according to Muhammad Afzal Rather, the Chief Executive of the scheme, the funds were not provided on time, which was a key reason for the delay. The other officials involved put the blame on people as well. “In the inception of the project, people themselves were responsible for delaying it; they despite suitable payments created problems in handing over their land for construction purpose.” The security situation added yet another reason for the delay.
In 2004, the works were taken up after the project received funding under central government’s Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP), a central scheme that offers loans for completion of major/medium irrigation projects.
Time overruns impacted the costs. “Rates of cement, iron, and the other equipment went high, which collectively increased the expenditure of the project,” One engineer said. Until now, the cumulative expenditure on the project is 68.67 crores. Of this, the state contributed around Rs 15.05 crores, which is more than ten per cent, the expected share, and the centre has given 53.61 crores.
The project, when completed, will change the belt. At Larkipora, 120-cusecs of water is lifted from the Jhelum with four pumps of 30 cusec capacity each. From here, an almost one-kilometre pipe fetches the water to Buhu, the stage II. Here again, there are two lifts, low and high, with a capacity of 66 cusecs and 54 cusecs respectively. There are four pumps installed in each one; the pumps at low lift have 16.5 cusec capability each, and those at high lift have 13.5 cusecs. The low lift takes water to Rajpora canal which is seven and a half kilometre long, expected to feed villages like Chak, Lalgam, Pirnad, Noorpora, Arampora; the high takes water to Midoora canal which is six and a half kilometre, expected to feed the fields of Midura, Khangund, Nanar, Taki. A total of 18 villages are the expected beneficiaries of the project.
It is actually the distribution network of Rajpora Canal, which is incomplete. Bhat believes that the work left could be accomplished within half a year. “Right now, we are working on the distributaries of Rajpora Canal, but we need money. We could complete the work in half a year provided the remaining funds from the central government are released,” said Bhat. An amount of Rs 2.38 crores is long overdue from the centre.
Although the work of Midoora Canal was long ago finished, its condition has started deteriorating in disuse. Along its course, at different places, there have been illegal breaches made in the canal by upstream farmers, which lowers the flow downstream. Also, the army personnel from Midura camp have made the canal a dumping site. “They (army) throw all of their waste in the canal, which blocks the smooth flow of the water,” said the residents of Midura.
Bhat said they lack enough manpower to solve this issue. “I have with only two subordinate officials looking after the working of the whole of the project, which is too much of work. That is why it becomes, at times, impossible to reach everywhere.”