|Portion of Kangsabati river barrage.|
The pictorial Mukutmanipur dam which halts water flow of the river Kumari and Kansabati and irrigates parts of Bankura, Paschim Medinipur, Purba Medinipur and Hooghly provides one of examples of the bitter and unreported experiences of what happens in neighbouring villages of large scale dam constructions. People a couple of generations ago have seen villages submerged under water, large scale evacuation process and irrevocable loss of social and emotional bonding.
What did they get in return is perhaps the most vital question. To understand this question I have been roaming around villages of Dhagora, Peerless para, Ekkaduar, Nadupara, Jambedia and Barghutu. Each of the villages fall under Gorabari Gram Panchayat which is now controlled by the Trinamool Congress. Mostly Tribal people like Santals, Bhumijs and a few families of Mundas occupy these villages. Some Scheduled Caste groups like Teli, Lohar and Bene live in some of the villages in the region. While the dam is filled with water regulated by the irrigation department to irrigate different parts of the neighbouring districts people in the adjascent villages keep depending on the rainwater to cultivate. Excepting the village Jambedia the rest of the villages cultivate a single crop and the amount they got is just enough for preparing next year’s seeds and providing their family a couple of rice meals throughout the year.
What makes the difference?
The difference which will be discussed soon is solely an outcome of positional advantage of the Jambedia than the rest of the villages. Jambedia which is about five kilometres south-west from the head regulator of the Kangsabati river barrage, have the closest farmlands from the dam water. Villagers use suction pump to pull out water to irrigate their farm lands. Interestingly the strategic locational advantage of the village farmland is a result of the evacuation process. The village headman, the Majhi, who is old enough to see and remember the actual process of evacuation reports that people from Jambedia village have lost their land and bought new lands from neighbouring villages like Surigram and Jhanti-Pahari which are now disappeared under water. The irrigation results in production of multiple crops which is otherwise impossible in the region. The Self Help Group (SHG) initiatives taken by the Panchayat have resulted in the availability of loans and the village SHG members have purchased several such pumps to irrigate their farm land in arid seasons. However, similar SHGs of the adjacent villages did not buy simply because they barely have access to the water that they see every day from their village.
The nature of difference:
One crop makes a family to survive two crops ensure educational attainments and three crops makes significant impact on health and well being. I did Participatory Rural Appraisal as well as Focus Group Discussions to find out the nature of educational and occupational attainments of the villagers. It is seen that Jambedia has several college going students and has sons and daughters working as school teachers, government employees and as other white-collar workers. This has been possible because on average they could afford to send their children not only to the schools but also to the colleges and even to universities. Other villages have school going children, perhaps a good result of the Mid-day meal programme but none of the villagers could afford to continue their child’s post-school education. Young boys are sent to cities like Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Pune to do construction works. While they stay abroad for a long period of time, it is reported by several villagers that they have high rate of Sexually Transmitted Disease, perhaps a common trend among the migrant labourers.
While water scarcity is the main factor behind the difference between Jambedia and the rest, the Gorabari Gram Panchayat is constantly trying to improve water retention by constructing hapa, small water reservoir with the help of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme. My two years field visit in the region shows that while the Gram Panchayat has planned innovatively to create hapas and interconnecting them to ensure long-term water retention, it is extremely difficult to convince villagers to provide land where such interconnected hapas can be constructed. There is no initiative from the irrigation department to install possible schemes like River Lift Irrigation, may be because it would reduce actual irrigation potential. However, in consequence villagers apart from Jambedia continue to toil for water which is plenty but inaccessible.