Overflowing Ghaggar river broke banks in July, destroyed Kharif paddy; villagers blame state government for disrepair
The Ghaggar river flowing through Punjab spelled doom for Kharif crops after the river broke banks following heavy rains in July. Entire fields of Kharif paddy have been destroyed and houses have been damaged, after the village was inundated at least twice.
However, a story of resilience shines bright among the many of despair. The residents alleged no aid from the Punjab government and have taken the matter into their own hands to repair the embankments to protect their remaining lands, crops, houses and fodder.
On July 10, 2023, the Ghaggar started swelling and the water rose as high as the six-feet-high embankments built on the borders of many villages of Punjab-Haryana. The embankments were weak in two spots, claimed locals, and the dams broke, wreaking havoc in villages bordering the river.
Harvinder Singh (26) is among the many farmers whose crops were ruined. The farmer had always worked on his family’s farms, but had decided to branch out on his own this year, renting around 1.5 acres of land and planting paddy.
Singh’s family lives in Dadba village, Ghannour tehsil in Punjab’s Patiala district. Their 10 acres of farmland is close to the state boundary and the Ghaggar and has been completely destroyed too. The accompanying riverbed sand has created even more trouble along with the inundated fields.
“I had transplanted the paddy in the first week of June itself, so the crop was about two feet or 60 centimetres tall. On July 9, it started raining and on July 10, about 100 metres away from the field, the dam broke and all the water came into the fields, the 26-year-old said.
The water receded after four days. Just as the farmers in the region were deliberating about transplanting paddy again, more water flowed in from the broken dam, this time bringing sand too.
“The sand has spread on the field in such a way that after removing the sand, we cannot say whether we will be able to sow wheat or not,” he told Down To Earth.
Harvinder Singh looks at his inundated fields. Photo: Raju Sajwan
“The sand is stuck in the fields, so we won’t be able to sow wheat in the Rabi season too. It will cost around Rs 50,000 per acre to remove the sand,” said Jaswant Ram, uncle of another farmer Harvinder Singh whose fields were destroyed.
The villagers blame the destruction on the poor build of the dam, claiming it was never repaired, leading to the floods. “About 500 bighas of land in my village have been completely destroyed. It may affect the fertility of the land too,” said Tarsem Kumar. Kumar’s wife is the Darba sarpanch.
“I am 44 years old and have lived here all my life. I have never seen flood water cross this dam river. The dam was broken in two spots and the villagers had demanded the Punjab government fix it several times, but to no avail,” Kumar alleged.
Ajmer Kaur said her crops had grown knee-high when the flood struck. “The entire crop is gone and the soil is logged with sand. We do not know if we will be able to farm here again,” she tearfully told DTE.
Farmer Gurdhyan Singh had rented 50 acres of land in Darba. Only a small portion of it is not logged with sand and he is trying to plant paddy there for the third time now. The floods destroyed his first two attempts. “If river water strikes again, I will be completely ruined,” he said.
Prem Singh and Harvansh Singh of Singhwala village own 21 acres of land in Darba. They gave it on rent to Trilochan Singh, who had spent Rs 27,000 per bigha on the Kharif crops, which were ruined by the floods. The field is now logged and will cost at least Rs 50,000 to plough it.
The landowners said any government aid would go to Trilochan, who had also spent money on applying urea to the farm.
More than half the residents of the village are landless. Cracks have appeared on the walls of 40-50 out of the 110 houses in the village. Flood water has entered the tubewell, due to which the village is facing a drinking water crisis.
The ceiling of a room in Gurdeep Kaur’s house has fallen and a piece of tarpaulin covers it for now. “If there are more heavy rains, my entire house will be in shambles. The administration has provided no relief until now and voluntary organisations are providing us with clean drinking water.
Houses damaged due to the floods in the village. Photo: Aishwarya Iyer
It had been 20 days since the dam broke when DTE made a ground visit in the area. The administration has hired a contractor to work on the dam, but the work is moving extremely slowly. The villagers come to check on the dam every day, fearful that another flood will destroy anything that is left.
A group of farmers decided to take the matter into their own hands. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhagat Singh), or BKU, called a meeting and decided to bring soil-filled bags from their respective villages by tractors and put them on the broken portion of the dam.
Within three days, they managed to cover the entire area, bringing relief to the anxious residents.
“There was a lot of rain this year, but the damage due to the dam breaking is entirely the fault of the administration,” said BKU spokesperson Tejveer Singh.
“First of all, the dam should be repaired every year before the monsoon, which has not been done for years. This time, when the dam broke for the first time, if the administration had repaired it immediately, people would not have suffered so much,” Tejveer added
He claimed that the village was flooded three times due to the broken dam. The residents kept demanding the government repair the dam, but the work did not start until 20 days later. “After a call from the farmers’ union, the farmers themselves started the work of building the dam, which is now nearing completion,” he said.
This is the second year of paddy loss for the farmers in this region. Last year, due to the dwarfing of paddy, the farmers also suffered losses.
Jaspal Singh, former sarpanch of Darba, said he owns seven acres of land. Last year, paddy did not grow and there was a loss of 20 to 25 per cent. This time, there has been a total loss.
“I had spent about Rs 60,000 on paddy nursery and transplanting, etc. The profits would have been used to fund the wheat sowing. Now I don’t know how to plant wheat next,” he said.
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