Three years since its inauguration, farmers in Mirzapur await water from Bansagar project to irrigate their farmlands

Widely promoted by the government as a mega-irrigation project aimed at supporting farmers practising rainfed agriculture in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Bansagar dam is yet to benefit farmers in Mirzapur, complain the local villagers. The state Jal Shakti minister has assured the canal water would be made available within a month.

Brijendra Dubey
| Updated: July 22nd, 2021

Marihan (Mirzapur), UP

Sixty-five-year-old Lallan Ram has spent the past 40 years of his life watching the never ending construction activity around the Bansagar irrigation project. The Bansagar canal, which is walking distance from his house in Majhwani Kotwa village of Mirzapur, has failed to provide the paddy farmer the promised water to irrigate his fields. Hence, Lallan Ram’s wait continues. 

Bhaiya, I was in my early youth when the construction activity began for the dam. And since 2001, someone or the other has been coming to survey, measure, construct and repair the canal,” he told Gaon Connection

“The Bansagar canal is at a walkable distance [about a kilometre] from my house but it is not functional yet and the construction work is still underway,” informed Ram. “Nuksaan hi hua hai isse, laabh koi nahin hai [canal hasn’t provided any benefit to me yet, moreover has added to our woes]. Animals and old people have fallen into it and died,” he alleged, adding that farmers like him were still dependent on the uncertainty of rainfall for their crops. 

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Lallan Ram has spent the past 40 years of his life watching the never ending construction activity around the Bansagar irrigation project.

Lallan Ram is not alone. A number of farmers in Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh complain they have been left high and dry by the Bansagar project whose canal network is still not functional decades after the project was launched.

Meanwhile, on July 19, Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Department tweeted that the much delayed Bansagar project had been finally completed and was now benefitting 170,000 farmers in Mirzapur and Prayagraj districts by bringing 150,131 hectares of farm land under irrigation.   

Six days before that, on July 13, Uttar Pradesh’s Minister for Jal Shakti Mahendra Singh held a meeting at Mirzapur district headquarter to enquire about the development of the project’s irrigation canals. Sources informed Gaon Connection that in the meeting, senior officials were reprimanded for the delay in providing irrigation facilities to the farmers.

The canal is not constructed at many places and merely a dug up stretch exists.

After the meeting, the minister said:“Due to some seepage (leaking) issues, the canal construction work is getting delayed. There are some points on the canal network that have leaks and the work is underway to repair and make the canal functional within a month.”

What is the Bansagar multipurpose project?

About 300 kilometres away from Lallan Ram’s house in Mirzapur, the foundation for the Bansagar dam project was laid by the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai in 1978 at the Sone river near the Deolond village in the Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh.

Almost three decades later, the dam’s construction was completed in 2006 and was dedicated to the country in a ceremony led by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The purpose of the Bansagar project was to provide irrigation to the nearby water-scarce regions of the three states — Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and the states shared the cost of the project.

Finally, on  July 15, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the dam and stated that the irrigation project will provide a big boost to irrigation in the region, and will be greatly beneficial for the farmers of Mirzapur and Prayagraj districts of Uttar Pradesh.

The Bansagar dam has a catchment area of 18,648 square kilometers and is supposed to provide irrigation on 249,000 hectares of land in Madhya Pradesh, 150,000 hectares in Uttar Pradesh and 94,000 hectares in Bihar. Along with irrigation, the project also generates 425 megawatt of electricity in Madhya Pradesh.  Also, the canal originating from the dam is 171 kms long.

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“The facility that you all were supposed to receive long ago was not provided and the country as a whole had to face financial losses. At that time the cost of this project was only Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion). It could have been completed within that amount. However, due to its suspension, time passed and its cost started shooting up,” PM Modi had stated at the inauguration event in Mirzapur.

“The Rs 300 crore project could now be completed only after using Rs 3500 crores (35 billion)” the PM said in July 2018.

However, three years later, farmers like Lallan Ram in Marihan block of Mirzapur complain they are yet to receive Bansagar dam’s water to irrigate their fields. 

Farmers in limbo

Lallan Ram’s fellow farmer, 65-year-old Shiv Ram Pal from Majhwani Kotwa village expressed his woes and said “Iss neher se koi laabh nahin hai [There are no benefits from the canal yet]. We cultivate paddy and it needs a lot of water. Whatever water we are able to extract from the borewell is used for our own consumption and we depend on the rainfall for our crops which often results in great losses,” he told Gaon Connection.

Shiv Ram Pal from Majhwani Kotwa village

“Sometimes our cattle fall in the neher [canal] and die. Instead of benefitting us, the neher has become a problem for us,” Pal added.

Dayaram Maurya, another farmer from Dayalpur Kotwa village, complained that the lack of sufficient water had resulted in a serious crisis for the inhabitants in the village.

“We have a hard time keeping our cattle alive as there isn’t enough water for the animals. Ours is a water scarce region and the terrain here is hilly. The groundwater level is so poor that even after boring at depths of seven to hundred feet, we are unable to find groundwater,” Maurya told Gaon Connection. “The farming here is entirely dependent on the rains and the gods,” he said.

On July 13, the Jal Shakti Minister Mahendra Singh assured that within a month, the canal leakages would be fixed and farmers would receive water. 

Also Read: How ‘uncontrolled, unplanned’ irrigation in northern India affects monsoon rainfall?

Lallan Ram, Shiv Ram Pal and Dayaram Maurya inform that considering they have waited for decades to receive the Bansagar’s promised water, they would wait for one more month.

Meanwhile, the minister also informed the mediapersons after the July 13 meeting that under the Jal Jeevan Mission, clean drinking water will be provided to all the villages in the Bundelkhand and Vindhya region by this December.

When Gaon Connection approached the Superintendent Engineer of Mirzapur’s Bansagar Project, he stated that he has been supplying water from the dam to the reservoirs regularly.

Asked about the villagers’ allegations, SN Pandey said, “If you ask me, I’ll say that we have been supplying the water regularly to the reservoirs but the further sub-units in the MCD (Mirzapur Canal Division) are not supplying the water in the canals”.