Allegations of irregularities and corruption are surfacing over the recently completed rehabilitation and maintenance work on more than 600 kilometres of different levees in Sunamganj.
Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) finished the work on the levees surrounding 36 haors of the district after the deadline to finish the works was extended from February 28 to March 20.
BWDB undertakes the routine maintenance work before the rainy season every year to protect cultivated crops, especially Boro, from flash floods in thousands of hectares of land in Sunamganj.
Around Tk 132 crore was spent this year to conduct 633.36 kilometres of rehabilitation work under 746 projects in the district. The projects were implemented by same number of Project Implementation Committees (PIC).
Last year, BWDB spent Tk 80 crore to complete 450 kilometres of rehabilitation work on the dykes under 572 projects.
Asked about the status of this year's work, BWDB Executive Engineer in Sunamganj Sabibur Rahman said, "All PICs completed their work. Only a few grass carpeting works are still being finished. We are now monitoring the weather and put the [newly restored] dykes under close observation."
However, officials of green organisation Haor Bachao Sunamganj Bachao said after visiting around 250 levees in the district, they found ample reasons to believe that the rehabilitation projects were rife with irregularities and corruption this year too.
The organisation's Joint Secretary Salehin Chowdhury said, "The irregularities and corruption took place in three forms. Firstly, there were around 100 projects that were not necessary [to be undertaken] for the protection of crops. Those [projects] were still implemented to serve the interests of some people."
"Secondly, around two hundred of the dykes were [already] in good condition as there was no flash flood in the district last year. But, full amount of money was allotted [for rehabilitation of the dykes] and the PICs only had to spend a small amount [of the allotted funds] to show that the works had been completed."
And finally, all the dykes are now vulnerable as none of the PICs stabilised the soil of the dykes, he said, adding that slopes of most of the dykes are also not up to the mark as grass was not planted there properly.
For decades, the government has been spending heavily on the rehabilitation work of the levees in haor regions to ensure protection of Boro harvest, which is a significant contributor to the country's agricultural economy.
The urgency of routinely maintaining the levees around the haors came to the fore in 2017 when flash floods destroyed Boro plants in vast areas in the region, resulting in a shortfall in rice production.
After finding negligence of contractors and PICs that year, the government initiated 'Kabita (Kajer Binimoye Taka) Rules 2017', a reformation in policy that put PICs under control of government officials. Under the policy, no contractor is awarded any work relating to construction or rehabilitation of levees in haor areas.
According to the policy, all PICs must be formed by November 30 of a year, the works to be started by December 15 and those to be completed by February 28.
This year, Boro paddy has been cultivated on 2,19,450 hectares of land in Sunamganj while last year's cultivation area was 2,28,440 hectares, said Mohammad Sofor Uddin, deputy director of Department of Agricultural Extension in Sunamganj.
Abdul Ahad, deputy commissioner of Sunamganj, said whenever he was informed of negligence in the dyke rehabilitation works, he directed the upazila nirbahi officer concerned to take action.
"For accountability, we provide payments to the PICs in instalments. They will get their final instalment payment after the harvest -- only if the dyke protects it [the crop]," he also said.