STANDING nearly a kilometre or two from the flowing waters and observing as far as the vision goes, one can spot 3-4 feet high sand dunes. This is not a beach site. This is a flood-affected village of Baupur Mand area in Sultanpur Lodhi, where paddy crop had been sown around mid-June and it all got buried under 10-12 feet of Beas waters on August 15.
A month on, the river waters have not yet receded in some villages, including Baupur Jadid, Rampur Gaura, Mohamadabad and Sangran, owing to a 250-foot-wide unrepaired breach in the advance bandh along the river. But in all those villages which have started to dry out, it has left behind a trail of massive destruction and layers of sand or clayey soil all around.
With no government help coming their way to plug the breach and rebuild their lives, the villagers have started procuring sacks, filling these with sand. “While embankments all across Punjab have already been repaired, we could barely start last week as it was not feasible reaching here. There is still a huge stretch of low-lying land in between which has 3-foot-deep water and can be crossed either in a boat or by wading through,” says local farmer leader Paramjit Singh Baupur.
He points toward the area, saying he had asked each family to send at least one male member daily for bandh repair work. “Leave aside getting any compensation for the crop loss or damage to our houses, no one, including the local SDM or even a tehsildar, has come this side asking us if we are safe. There are 3,000-odd persons residing here who are facing extreme conditions on a daily basis.”
Gurjant Singh, a farmer from Baupur Kadim village, says he had sown paddy twice in 25 acres here — once in June and again in July. “But the crop survives only in 1.5 acres. No patwari has yet come to our village for damage assessment. So far, we have no word from the administration on when and whether we shall be compensated.”
Daler Singh of the same village, who had cultivated 6 acres, shows stumps of paddy left in his fields. “Only my sugarcane crop sown in a small portion survives but this patch has also got completely covered with less fertile clayey soil,” he points out. Owing to the soil quality and dampness, the villagers are unsure if they would be able to sow wheat in the coming season.
Life is harsh not just for the elders, but even the children. The only government school in the area, which has a strength of 150 students, has 70-80 students coming daily, that too because of the examinations. “The rest of the children are still at their relatives’ places or find it too difficult to make it to the school daily since some have to take two boats and walk past slippery clayey land. With flood water all around it, the school building remains unapproachable. We have been taking classes under a shed on the gurdwara premises,” says a teacher. All six teachers make the children sit under the same shed and have been taking classes without any blackboard.
Maskeen (14), who has bitter experiences of floods to share, takes a lot of time to open up. “We had a house in Rampur Gaura village which got washed away. For over a month, we have been living with another family. My parents have no money to rebuild our house. Our crop also got damaged. We just have some furniture, basic utensils and a few pairs of clothes,” she says.
Hardships have made the people in the flood-prone area resilient and quick learners. All of seven, Abhijeet, a Class II student, has already learnt how to row a boat. “I cannot count the number of rounds that I make in the boat towards the dry area from my house. My father does not work and I have to perform all duties for my mother, beginning the day with carrying milk for sale. At times, I have to miss my school too,” he says, a smile fixed on his face.
Other than Sultanpur Lodhi, villagers from parts of Lohian in Shahkot area of Jalandhar, Tanda, Mukerian, parts of Ferozepur and Fazilka area too are struggling to recover from the damage caused by floods to their houses, farmlands and schools. The rough ride continues.
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