Irrigation projects in western Tarai delayed by decades, farmers suffer

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Parched farmlands in the western Tarai face an uncertain future as the irrigation projects intended to bring water have not been completed even after 40 years.

Experts say that it may take another 10 years before these schemes in Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts are ready. That gives the national pride projects a completion deadline of half a century.

The Sikta Irrigation Project is designed to irrigate 42,766 hectares of farmlands with water from the Rapti River. It is estimated that the construction will last 10 more years.

The Babai Irrigation Project, which has been under construction for the last 35 years in Bardiya, aims to irrigate 36,000 hectares.

The Rani Jamara Kularia Project being constructed in Kailali will irrigate 38,300 hectares.

The Mahakali Irrigation Project, which launched in 1985 and whose third phase was completed in June last year, is designed to irrigate 33,520 hectares in Kanchanpur and Kailali.

With the construction of the irrigation canals happening in slow motion, farmers have been relying on the heavens for water to grow their crops. Many farmlands lie barren for lack of water. In some areas, the cultivable land has been shrinking rapidly as it is being turned into housing plots.

Tikaram Baral, deputy director general of the Department of Water Resources and Irrigation, said that the construction of the irrigation canals could not be completed for years due to a lack of budget and other reasons.

“The construction of canals is not like digging roads. It’s technically difficult and takes time,” he said.

Gopal Prasad Sigdel, secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, said that low budget allocation has hindered the timely construction and maintenance of the irrigation canals.

“Lack of funds has also prevented some irrigation projects from being upgraded,” he said.

The Babai Irrigation Project remains incomplete even after a construction phase lasting 35 years. According to the project, 69.30 percent of physical infrastructure works have been completed so far.

Construction work on the Babai Irrigation Project started in 1988 with the aim of irrigating 36,000 hectares with water from the Babai River.

Sushil Devkota, chief of Babai Irrigation Project, said that a budget of Rs2 billion is needed every year to work as per the target.

“As the government allocated Rs600 million last fiscal year, we failed to meet the construction target,” he said.

The estimated budget for the Babai Irrigation Project is Rs18.96 billion, including the cost of the structures of the central canal and branches. Till now, Rs12.5 billion has been spent.

Farmers have not been able to grow good crops throughout the year as there is not enough water in the Babai River.

Lakhana Tharu, a farmer of Joshipur, Gulariya Municipality-11, said that even though the canal structure has been built, the river water level has dropped. “Farmers are not getting enough water to irrigate their land.”

Farmers of Badhaiyatal, Barbardiya and other municipalities also say that they are having a hard time because the water level in the canal was low during the paddy transplantation period.

“The Babai River dries up in the winter season and farmers have to irrigate their fields using pump sets,” said Bishram Tharu of Barbardiya. “There is an irrigation canal but there is no water. We have to buy expensive diesel to operate pump sets when we transplant paddy,” he said.

Ram Krishna Ghorasaini, divisional engineer of the Babai Irrigation Project, said that after the Bheri-Babai diversion, which is being built in Surkhet, is completed, there will be enough water in the Babai River for irrigation around the year.

Prem Lasiba, senior divisional engineer of the Rani Jamara Kulariya Project, said that after the first and second phases of the project are ready, there will be irrigation facilities in Tikapur of Kailali, Lamki Chuha Municipality, Janaki Rural Municipality and areas near the Kandra and Pathraiya rivers.

The Rani Jamara Kulariya Project will irrigate 38,300 hectares. The construction of its side intake has been completed. The construction of the main canal is close to completion.

Under the overall master plan of the first phase of the Rani Jamara Kulariya Project, the cost of expanding the irrigation system to 20,300 hectares will come to Rs27.70 billion.

The World Bank will be investing Rs10 billion while the government will inject Rs17.5 billion in the project.

The first phase of the Rani Jamara Kulariya Project, slated to be completed by the fiscal year 2023-24, saw only 65.2 percent financial progress. The project has achieved 67 percent physical progress. So far, Rs18.6 billion has been spent on it.

The Rani Jamara Kulariya Project will benefit 352,430 locals in Tikapur Municipality, Janki Rural Municipality and Lamki Chuha Municipality.

It has been more than three decades since the first and second phases of the construction of the Mahakali Irrigation Project started in Kanchanpur. While the project crawls forward, cultivable land is decreasing due to increasing urbanisation and haphazard construction activities.

The construction of the first phase of the Mahakali Irrigation Project started in 1985 and was completed in 1991, irrigating 4,800 hectares. The second phase, which was completed in 1995, has been irrigating 6,800 hectares.

It will take another 10 years to complete the Sikta Irrigation Project which was started in 2005-06. The project aims to irrigate 42,766 hectares from the water of the Rapti River. Rs18.35 billion has been spent on the scheme in the last 18 years.

According to the revised master plan of the Sikta Irrigation Project, the cost of the project, which is slated to be completed by 2033, is estimated to reach Rs52.64 billion. After the scheme is ready, 400,000 farmers will benefit, experts said.

Source : The Kathmandu Post