Wednesday, September 13, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Wild growth chokes Bhakra canal
From Raman Mohan

HISAR, Sept 12 — The Bhakra Canal, regarded as the lifeline of farmers of Punjab and parts of Haryana and Rajasthan, is gasping for breath with thick vegetation growing freely on its bed and banks due to lack of proper maintenance. This has not only restricted its capacity, but also severely damaged the canal’s lining.

A tour along the banks of the canal and its branches which meander through several districts of Haryana on its way to Rajasthan, revealed that wild vegetation has severely damaged its lining at several places. Besides, villagers have broken the lining to facilitate theft of irrigation water and to allow animals to enter the canal for bathing and drinking. Officials admit that removal of bricks is fraught with danger as canal could breach at these points when the flow is heavy. The thick vegetation along the banks include bamboo, wild grass, poplar and shisham and in many places trees can be seen growing along the canal bed itself.

Irrigation experts say unless the growth of vegetation is checked, the roots will spread below the lining uprooting the bricks. The Irrigation Department is supposed to engage labour to remove the vegetation periodically but it has been allowed to grow freely over the year causing severe damage to the canal.

While farmers owning land on both sides of the canal say that irrigation official direct them to remove the vegetation in their own interest from time to time, officials maintain that they engage labour on daily wages for the purpose. Mr Baljit Singh Yadav, a social and political activist from Gorakhpur village said, “For the past several years I have never seen Irrigation Department labourers removing the vegetation. In my village too, whenever small amounts of vegetation is removed manually, it is done by the villagers themselves”. He alleged that the officials cornered the money meant for removing vegetation by preparing fraudulent muster rolls. The same story is repeated in village after village.

Mr V.K. Singhal, Superintending Engineer, Bhakra Canal, maintained that vegetation was removed regularly. Nevertheless, he declined to give any information about the money spent for the purpose on the plea that he was not authorised to speak to the Press.

In private irrigation officials admit that the canal is dying a slow death because of lack of proper maintenance. They said the funds for maintenance were meagre and these too were not spent properly. The Tribune found that the canal lining was kept free from vegetation only near bridges. On inquiry it was found that this was done to give an impression that the entire length of the canal was clean.

Officials admitted this fact on condition of anonymity and explained that about 200 feet long stretches on both sides of the bridges were kept free from vegetation since ministers and senior officers often travelled by road and would notice the vegetation. Hardly any attention was paid to the stretches of canal which away from main roads. However, even the piers of many bridges were surrounded by thick vegetation. Officials claimed that the vegetation was removed by villagers upstream and had floated down the canal.

Irrigation department officials say the biggest hurdle in maintaining the canal is that it is closed only if there is a breach. Otherwise the canal flows year round. Frequent closures are not possible since consent of the all the states through which the canal flows is necessary. The one saving grace is that there is no silting of the canal as the river’s waters are silt free.

Thick wild vegetation growing on the brick lining of the Fatehabad branch of the Bhakra Canal near Gorakhpur village is in Hisar district.

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