I was amazed when the wife of Rajkishore, my brother-in –law told Yamuna that the police were not allowing the farmers to draw ground water for irrigation to save the paddy transplanted in the field. I had not heard of police controlling the running of tube wells ever. Baliram, another relative from a nearby village confirmed the news of the government using police to control the use of ground water. Today Alok called me from my village and on my query confirmed the news and extremely serious water situation. He appeared to be really worried. He has been doing very fine in farming for some years now. He had not faced this situation ever. This is after many years. I have a memory of the drought in Bihar in 1966. I had worked for a fortnight with some members of Peace Corps from US at Noorsarai near Nalanda.
A serious drought looms large over Bihar. The metrological predictions perhaps also become political. Even on Wednesday it predicted widespread rainfall in Bihar in the next 48 hours. 26 of Bihar's 38 districts are officially drought-hit. According to Alok, Sone barrage doesn’t have water because the barrage upstream is not releasing any.
Critically receded water level almost in all part of the country including Punjab and Haryana is due to the irresponsible way of farming. Paddy certainly requires excessive water. But farmers with free electricity overuse rather waste the water. Over the years, the farmers have killed the water bodies that were in plenty in everywhere built by ancestors for natural water harvesting. Every big village in my district with Sher Shah’s home town of Sasaram had water bodies around the habitations and also some large water tanks. While some do survive but most of them are in bad shape and almost filled with silt. Many have been filled to create residential plots. In rural areas many farmers have filled them to increase the farming area. The government has failed to educate the farmers about the necessity of the wetlands and water bodies. I remember in early 60s, a farsighted gentle man got built a barrage on the rivulet ‘Thora Baba’ that flows by the side of my maternal village, Bodarhi in the same district. Though many similar barrages could have been built along the river but nothing happened. The communities failed to take initiatives and the government as usual never works for such long term projects. Sone River itself or almost all the rivers in Bihar or other states could have many more barrages to create water storage with rainy water but few came up. The existing ones badly need de-silting.
The traditional canal system of irrigation requires a lot of investment and the land requirement is high. With the present opposition to land acquisition, it may become impossible to take them up. It is highly wasteful and inefficient too. Perhaps the alternative way will be to build up water harvesting system to ensure water level in all the regions. Today with small landholdings, the irrigation system must provide the right amount of water at the right time at the right location. Only tube wells can provide that.
Gujarat along with grass-roots organizations have attained a great success on decentralized water harvesting that included the building of check dams, village tanks, and bori-bunds (built with gunny sacks stuffed with mud). Gujarat has built huge number of check dams that have played a big role in the agricultural growth of Saurashtra and Kutch. The water resource ministries and local bodies including every panchayat must work on ensuring water harvesting and recycling.
With Bihar the situation is unique. While most of its districts are facing serious drought, Bagmati has flooded some districts, but the government or the citizens have not anything in the system whatsoever to store the flood water by building dams or by directing it to large number of water bodies for use for farming at later stage.
Surprisingly, the new way of rice growing requiring significantly less water and with lowered production costs up to about Rs 1500 per acre has been developed. This new method sows the seed directly in the fields using a direct seeding machine co-created by PepsiCo. It doesn’t require submerging them in water. If other states can experiment with method, why can’t the farmers of Bihar? Why should not the government initiate collaborations with the companies such as PepsiCo and ITC for the farmers of Bihar?
How has the nation as whole with so much of technological strength and brain power not taken up any major project to overcome the miseries of the millions of people of Bihar in last 62 years of independence? The politicians from the state have certainly failed it. Even today they are carrying on with political maneuvers with drought and flood instead of getting any long term solutions. Should not the people of the state demand this from them?