on may 12, 1999, a storm swept over Patiala, Punjab, uprooting most of the district's electric poles and trees along the banks of the Bhakra Main Line ( bml ) canal that supplies water to Rajasthan and Haryana from the Bhakra-Nangal dam. "A wall of water, laden with uprooted trees and mud gushed towards my home. In about one hour the whole area was submerged," says Pratap Singh, a villager of Shatrana, whose house was the first to be submerged. The breach submerged agricultural lands of four villages and many houses. It was for the second consecutive year the canal breached around the same site.
Though there have been no human casualties, more than 1,215 hectares (ha) of agricultural lands and 70 farmhouses have been submerged in Shatrana, Naiwala, Jogiwala and Gulad villages, all in Patiala district. The district authorities and the Bhakra Beas Management Board ( bbmb ) had to call in the Army for clearing the area near the breach.
"Initially the breach was around 18 metres (m) wide which soon became around 34 m wide virtually releasing all the canal's water into the agricultural lands of the adjacent three villages," says P K Singla, superintendent engineer, bml canal circle.
Water supply to the canal had to be suspended from the source to repair the gap. About 100 people of the bbmb were repairing the breach after the Army put in an approach road to the site. By May 16, the breach was almost repaired and the flow of water was supposed to resume by May 23.
Though the breach has been repaired and the disaster did not take a toll of human lives, the fear of its recurrence haunts the villagers. In 1998, the fall-cum-bridge on the canal at this site was clogged by tree branches swept into it from upstream. "The space between the pillars of this bridge is narrower than other bridges on the canal thus leading to clogging immediately," says Mulcha Singh, the secretary of the Shatrana Co-operative Agricultural Society which has lost grain worth about two lakh rupees which was stored in its godown. "The bridge is technically perfect but this time a number of trees were swept into the canal and it blocked the flow of water," says H S Bhullar, the subdivisional officer of the bml canal.
Additional deputy commissioner of Patiala R S Randhawa has ordered the forest department to start a survey of the trees on the banks of the canal which were planted to check soil erosion. "There are mature trees which can be uprooted only by strong wind like the recent one. Still, we are working on a disaster management plan along with the other departments concerned," he says.