Combating Desertification & Drought

2000 Kanals of paddy land turned barren, Agriculture Department unaware. Irrigation Department fails to irrigate our farmlands
Combating Desertification & Drought
Barren Paddy fields of Batwodder.Source: Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

At a time when small and big nations are focusing on turning the degraded land into healthy and resourceful land, to bring economic resilience and to counter the food insecurity, the authorities at the helm in Jammu & Kashmir have turned fertile and irrigated farmlands unproductive properties. Ironically, the agriculture department seems to be unaware of this.

In fact this year’s international day to combat desertification and drought which is commemorated today, June 17th across the world revolves round the theme of converting degraded land into an agriculture rich land. While we restore the degraded land, it not only helps farmers economically but also helps to create more jobs and increases food security as well. By making unproductive and barren land cultivable and productive, we help biodiversity to recover as well. We have lots of examples with us wherein barren lands were converted into forest areas or it was made productive through agricultural activity. But there are very few instances wherein irrigated agriculture land became barren due to official mismanagement in spite of having better water resources.

Batwodder Kull

From the last many centuries Batwodder Kull has been irrigating hundreds of kanals of agricultural land in Budgam’s Surasyar block. Surasyar block in Chadoora sub division used to be known as Kandi area which means un-irrigated area with least agricultural production. Even after so much advancements in agriculture and irrigation system, 85% of the land is un-irrigated in the Surasyar block which consists of 16 panchayat halqas. Pertinently Surasyar was part of Chadoora block until a few years back. In this entire block Batwodder was the only habitation, where paddy was grown over an area of around 1600 kanals of land ( 200 acres) for the last many centuries. Batwodder which itself a part of Bonen panchayat halqa, has derived its name from rice (Battee) wodder (karewa), which means rice producing Karewa. The Karewa land hardly produced rice those days. It is said that a Sufi saint Ahmad Sahib (RA) who is buried at Wathoora Batpora had given this hamlet the name of Batwodder more than 100 years back.

The irrigation canal (Batwodder Kull) is around 4 kms long which has its origin around Padshah Taar area of Doodh Ganga forest range. Some water from Doodh Ganga river which flows through Padshah Taar jungle goes into the Batwodder canal. This water was used to irrigate the farmlands of Batwodder and the main village Bonen until 2014. People do have tap water in the area but the supply has a timing while Batwodder Kull was supplying clean water for entire summer months to people. This would not only benefit the human population but even the animals would get benefitted. For the last several years the cattle and sheep in the area also face a lot of difficulty in summer months. For more than 6 years this irrigation canal has been defunct and the Govt has failed to even get it repaired.

Visit to Batwodder

On June 14th 2021, I traveled to the site along with a group of social activists. Batwodder is around 32 kms from Srinagar and 17 kms from Chadoora town. From Batwodder we walked around 2 to 3 kms through barren fields and forest areas to reach the site where the canal was damaged more than 6 years back.

When Mushtaq Ahmad, our senior activist who also hails from Batwodder, would tell me about the breach in the canal, I would imagine a huge landslide having damaged the Koull. But after visiting the site myself , I found the breach was very much manageable. An iron or cement concrete flume not more than 30 meters long would have restored the canal long back. Even a wooden flume would have done the job to connect two ends of the canal.

The Irrigation Department spent so much money post 2014 floods to repair irrigation canals and rivers but unfortunately not even a single penny was made available for poor people of Batwodder , Bonen or adjoining areas of Surasyar ?

The unresponsive attitude of the Irrigation Department not only deprived people of water for irrigation, but even animals and humans also have been left to God’s mercy. This is the worst kind of human-rights abuse any developmental department has done to its citizens. Had this been done in some western country the involved officers would have been tried in the court of law for criminal negligence.

The officers who have been posted in Irrigation Division Budgam in past have to be answerable to people of Batwodder as their non-responsive attitude and mis-governance made almost 1500 kanals of paddy land useless. The area has a great potential to grow aromatic Kashmiri rice like Mushk Badjee, but that was never ever explored by the agriculture department. Ironically, the agriculture department seems to be totally unaware of this huge loss of paddy land in a single village, and denial of irrigation facilities to farmers. They could have at least urged the Irrigation Department to come to the rescue of local villagers but they too seem to be unaware of what was happening on the ground.

Conclusion

In March this year we sought information under RTI about Batwodder Koull from the office of Chief Engineer Irrigation & Flood Control Kashmir. We wanted to know whether any proposal had been prepared in the past to repair the canal or was any tender issued in this regard? The official reply provided by the Assistant Executive Engineer (AEE) Irrigation Sub Division Chadoora made it clear that the department never prioritized the repair work. The AEE in his official reply dated 14.05.2021, said that restoration work has been reflected in this year’s (2021) capex plan, however, tenders have not been floated as authorization was not received from the higher ups. It is clear that the canal restoration work is not a priority for the Govt even after 6 long years.

I am sure this article would act as a wakeup call for the officers of Irrigation Department who must visit the area soon and undertake restoration work on Batwodder Koull before the winter sets in. The Agriculture department, Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) Budgam should also send their experts to the area to assess the ground situation. This is my message on this world day to combat desertification and drought.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman of J&K RTI Movement

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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