The 18-kilometre main canal of the country's largest Teesta irrigation Project is increasingly becoming vulnerable due to lifting of earth and sand from the embankments by some unscrupulous people.
The left embankment of the canal, from Dalia of Dimla upazila at the Teesta Barrage point to Dundidari of Jaldhaka upazila, has been damaged at 21 points, claimed locals.
The damaged parts include a 300-metre stretch which has been completely destroyed by the sand lifters, they said, adding that if the embankments collapse, irrigation to Boro fields will be greatly hampered this season.
The canal, which was commissioned in 1998 and has been bracketed as a key point installation (KPI-1) since, is connected with other secondary and tertiary canal networks stretching around 300 kilometres, said a Water Development Board (WDB) official.
“Around 44,000 hectares of Boro field have been brought under irrigation through this canal this year. The canal with a bed width of 278 feet carries 1400-1600 cubic metres of water per second if there is normal water flow in river and it puts pressure on embankments,” informed the WDB official posted at Dalia.
The 18-kilometre main irrigation canal was supposed to have embankments as wide as 111 feet, with an average height of five feet, said the official.
But during a recent visit, this reporter found that a 300-metre portion of the left embankment has been levelled with farmlands at Dundibari village in Jaldhaka upazila.
In other 20 points, the extent of damage ranged from 10 to 100 metres.
It made the embankment so vulnerable that at pressure of flowing water, it collapsed at several places at different times in recent past.
As vast crop fields were inundated following the incidents of embankment collapse, the WDB had to repair the damaged parts spending huge sums of money.
A resident of Dundibari village, also a beneficiary of Teesta irrigation project, Moshiar Rahman said forest department planted several thousand woody trees in 2004 to protect the embankment.
“But callous earth lifters often remove soil from near the roots of grown up trees, even cut the roots, ultimately leading to death and falling down of the trees,” he added.
“Earth lifters from nearby Jaldhaka upazila town bring tractors to carry the earth and if we try to prevent the illegal act, their men assault us,” said farmer Hukum Ali of Balagram village.
Azizul Islam, president of Teesta project irrigational water management association, a body of beneficiary group, said they were interested in playing a role to protect the embankment if the authorities give them responsibility.
“In last meeting with WDB officials in the first week of this month, we asked them to give us the responsibility to look after the canal embankments and trees on them along with water of the canal,” he said, adding that they also wanted permission for fish farming in the canal.
However, Sub-divisional engineer of WDB's Dalia Division Abdul Hafiz outright rejected the idea, saying that the canal and other facilities are very 'important infrastructures'.
Asked why the WDB has failed to protect the important infrastructures from the illegal lifting of soil from the embankment, Abdullah Al Mamun, executive engineer of WDB's Dalia division, said he had taken steps to handle the situation with heavy hands and requested chairmen of the union parishads concerned to cooperate in protecting embankments.
He also said that his department has lodged a number of cases against the illegal earth and sand lifters and persons who harmed the project's property.
Responding to another query, Al Mamun said they have nine armed Ansar members to ensure the security of three regulators along the 18-km canal.
“But we are facing problem to monitor round the clock the canal and other key structures due to shortage of manpower,” he said without getting into the details of 'manpower shortage'.