Constructing A Dream
To contrast with Goudpali, residents some villages in Muzaffarnagar and Meerut, in Uttar Pradesh, lying on the banks of river Ganga, have been lucky. The government may not have come forward to help them but neither has it intervened to undo the community work that they undertook. The villages have come together to build a bund on the banks of river Ganga, saving the area from floods that used to wreak havoc every year, destroying their crops.
Tired of waiting for the irrigation department to help, the villagers took the matter in their own hands. They built an 11.5 kilometre bund running through the villages of Ahmedwala, Sherpur, Shujapur, Ramawala, Jeevanpuri, Hassanpuri and Kheda, besides others.
The people sought help from Baba Kashmira Singh, a known philanthropist at Tapovan Gurudwara in Amritsar. "Three years back, we approached Baba Kashmira to help us in building the bund," says Mandeep Singh of Ahmedwala. Baba Kashmira sent Baba Jagtar Singh to Ahmedwala, who motivated the villagers in the region to take on the task of building a bund by volunteering labour.
"Motivated by him, we started collecting funds and came forward for shraamdan (voluntary service)," says Khatun, a Kallandar Gujjar from Deobhal. Slowly, a systematic approach to collect funds was set up. All farmers whose land would be benefited from the bund were asked to contribute Rs 500 per year per acre of land and a bag of paddy for each acre affected. The farmers willingly contributed. "Even today, we give money to the common pool as our yield has increased ten folds", says Kripal Singh of Ahmedwala. Work began by hiring tractors, but now villagers have bought and donated five tractors for the purpose. Many sugar mills from Meerut to Muzzafarnagar, who buy the sugarcane produced in the region have also donated money.
Today the 3.048 metres high and 9.144 metres wide earthen wall of protection stands testimony to the villager's labour. And the villagers are not ready to stop at just this. Enthused by the idea of the community managing resources and the benefits that are to be gained from it, they are not ready to stop here. They plan to build the bund over the entire distance of 25 kilometres up to Hastinapur and also make it a permanent structure. The state government had projected that a project developed for the same work as the villagers had done would cost Rs 32 crore. The villagers did it for a mere Rs 42 lakh.
"At present, we are making thokkar (dykes) with boulders and wire mesh to strengthen the bund", says Gurjinder Singh, resident of . To make the thokkar , the villagers spent Rs 50,000 while the government made a similar structure on the Bijnor barrage spending Rs 13.5 lakh.
The annual dismaying ritual of loosing standing crop to floods has been put a stop to. Naturally, the harvest, today, is much higher. Farmers grow sugarcane, paddy, and fresh vegetables in the fertile plains. "River Ganga has blessed us again," says Gurjinder Singh, resident of Ahmedwala. Farmers are earning about Rs 74,000 per ha of cultivated land. Earlier their produce was not even 20 per cent of this amount. The villagers are able to take two crops -- a rarity earlier.
The irrigation department officials are happy too. "Though all the technical details have not been followed, we are satisfied with the bund as it has stopped flooding in the region," says an irrigation official. D P Singh, junior executive engineer in the irrigation department, says, "The bund has been made at a distance of 100 metres while under the Irrigation Act guidelines, such structures should be made at a distance of 450-600 metres". He gives his 'expert' comments: "If a flood with high velocity comes, then the bund may not be able to resist the force and could breach." He however goes on to say that till today, the bund has withstood the pressure well. The department did not provide any technical support for the bund. S K Gupta, the draftsman with the department gives this for as an excuse: "Had we provided the technical support, then the norms would have to be followed, so we did not lend any support." However, villagers say that they asked for 500 tractors of boulders, which was not supplied. The sugar mills in the vicinity then came forward to help them and supplied the boulders.
Also, unlike the case in Goudpali, the government departments are not complaining about the 2-3 kilometre stretch through which the bund runs. The irrigation department officials acknowledge that they are not in a position to complain. The people's effort has also found support from the local mla , Suresh Chander, who has gone ahead and highlighted the achievements of the villagers in the state assembly. Baba Jagtar Singh, has in fact been felicitated by the district administration, for his efforts. The local member of parliament, Avtar Singh Bhadana has donated Rs 51,000 for the bunding activity.
The irrigation department has woken up and is proposing a project for a 16.5 kilometre long bund. Officials at the irrigation department say that as the people have already made the bund, they will help to strengthen it. People's labour has shown colour at least in these villages.
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