June 18, 2000,
Engineer’s kin selling canal water
FAZILKA, June 17 — While farmers in most tail-end villages continue to face acute shortage of irrigation water, the brother of a senior Punjab Irrigation Department officer is pumping out water from Bhagsar minor canal and selling it in the market.
Bottled and marketed under the brand name, “Snow”, the water is sold for drinking in Fazilka, Abohar and Jalalabad areas. Each of the 20-litre bottle costs Rs 10 and is supplied to the residents on small rickshaws. Although farmers in the tail-end villages continue to protest against the alleged pilferage of canal water by influential landlords, this has been continuing for almost a year now.
It is alleged that 15,000 litres of water is pumped out every day for sale from Bhagsar minor at Jhandwala Bhimeshah village by Mr Satish Pojara, whose brother is a Superintending Engineer (SE) in the Irrigation Department posted at Ludhiana. Incidentally, Mr Satish Pojara is also sarpanch of the village.
The water is allegedly pumped out at a plant located near the canal and later sent to the market for sale. When this reporter visited the plant, posing as a client who wanted to have an agency of the “Snow”, the water was being loaded in a truck. Mr Satish Pojara told this reporter that the plant had been functioning here since June last year and that he was paying Rs 11,000 annually as revenue to the Irrigation Department.
He claimed that he had the permission of the Irrigation Department for this purpose and admitted that being a brother of an officer had worked to his advantage. “It is otherwise difficult to get permission for pumping out canal water for sale”, he said. He added that the project was started during his brother, Mr B.N. Pojara’s tenure as an Executive Engineer in Abohar.
In the market, it was found that “Snow” was popular as ‘pure canal water.’ Interestingly, its purchasers are also farmers, who are not getting adequate drinking and irrigation water in far-flung villages on account of shortage and theft of canal water.
A quick survey of some of these villages revealed that the residents are forced to buy bottled water from Fazilka on account of poor water supply at their doorstep.
The only source of drinking water in these villages are the handpumps, but residents say that underground water is unfit for consumption. It is for this reason that they are forced to buy “Snow” and a few other bottled water brands. They also pointed out that scarcity of canal water had rendered their fields dry.
The Superintending Engineer, Mr B.N. Pojara, sought to delink the water scarcity in tail-end villages from the business being run by his brother. He added that what his brother was selling was only a fraction of the total Bhagsar minor water.
Denying that he ever used his influence to get his brother permission, he said, “Some people might be trying to exploit the situation”. He said that his brother was given permission on the basis of a field report and the department was charging fee for this.
He further sought to clarify that selling of canal water was not an exception and this was allowed in other parts of the state too. “Snow”, he said, was not the only product as other firms were also selling canal water for drinking.
On whether any procedure was followed to let his brother pump out canal waters, he said that there was no need for procedures, like calling of tenders, and the permission was granted after a team examined the feasibility of the project.
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