Levee repair delay leaves farmers edgy
Hundreds of farmers in Sunamganj are in fear of losing their Boro paddy to floods as the authorities concerned are delaying the repair of levees.
In this haor region, the government every year does the work to protect the major crop of the low-lying district from floods.
In March 2017, an early flood devastated the north-eastern haor region of the country and the Sunamganj farmers lost Boro paddy on around 1,13,000 hectares.
After finding negligence of officials of Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), its contractors and Project Implementation Committees (PICs), 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 restoration of levees in haor areas.
According to the policy, all PICs must be formed by November 30 of a year, the repair work is to start by December 15 and to be completed by February 28.
This year, the government again delayed for weeks to start the restoration work of the levees.
According to the BWDB in Sunamganj, 521km of levees have to be restored in 40 haors of the district this year. To complete the work, the district committee for restoring the levees approved 720 schemes at the cost of Tk 118 crore.
However, only 690 PICs were formed as of yesterday and around 30 percent work of the schemes started, said Md Shamsuddoha, executive engineer of Sunamganj BWDB.
He said the survey work on the levees had been completed before the stipulated time, but the PIC formation was delayed.
This correspondent recently visited Dharmapasha, Madhyanagar and Tahirpur upazilas.
Talking to The Daily Star, farmer Abul Hossain, of Kauhani village in Madhyanagar upazila, said, "Since 2017, we have been living in fear of losing our precious yield. When we see the levee repair work is delayed and PICs are negligent, we lose our courage to cultivate."
This correspondent also found as water receded, many levees were repaired with dirt taken from right beneath the slopes which is strictly prohibited by the Kabita Rules as it weakens the levees. According to the rules, this dirt has to be taken at least 500 metres away from the spot.
Salehin Chowdhury, joint secretary of Haor Bachao Sunamganj Bachao, a platform for ensuring farmers' rights, said, "The levee restoration work is now a way of embezzling public money. They [officials involved in the projects] initiate unnecessary schemes to benefit a few individuals."
Asked, Engineer Shamsuddoha, said, "PICs are paid the final instalments after their work is checked. But we'll look into the matter strictly this year."
Zahangir Hossain, deputy commissioner of Sunamganj and president of the district committee for restoring the levees, said, "We're hopeful of completing all the work before February 28. No complaint against any PICs has been filed yet."
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension in Sunamganj, Boro paddy is estimated to be cultivated on 2,20,695 hectares of land this year.
Foridul Hasan, deputy director of DAE in Sunamganj, said, "As water receded from haors early and the harvest was good last year, farmers are preparing to cultivate the paddy on more land.