Rogda (Chhattisgarh), October 24, 2012

In Chhattisgarh, a lifeline gone without trace

Suvojit Bagchi, The Hindu , Oct 24,2012

  • The Rogda water reservoir site. Photo : Special Arrangement
    The Rogda water reservoir site. Photo : Special Arrangement
  • Ramkhilaon, a construction worker at the dam in the 50s, says those who never used water from the reservoir have decided its fate.
    Special Arrangement Ramkhilaon, a construction worker at the dam in the 50s, says those who never used water from the reservoir have decided its fate.

Legislative Assembly panel gives clean chit for transfer of Rogda reservoir land to private power company

While there is an outcry in Maharashtra over disappearing irrigation water, in Chhattisgarh, an entire reservoir — the lifeline of four villages — has vanished. The 131-acre rain-fed reservoir has been leased out by the government to a private power company.

However, an Assembly committee, recently constituted to investigate the ‘transfer’ of the reservoir, in its 3:2 majority report, did not find anything wrong with the deal. But a map by Google and the testimony of several villagers are evidence enough to prove that the reservoir was indeed located at Rogda, a small village on the southwestern side of Janjgir-Champa, the most irrigated district of Chhattisgarh, even a few years ago.

Rogda, like most other villages of Janjgir-Champa, produced two or more crops till recently with water obtained from the reservoir. The villagers of Rogda and adjoining Nariyera, Amora and Tarod used its water also for drinking and other household activities. In fact, the Assembly panel states the government acquired 130.54 acres of land from three villages to construct the reservoir in 1954 during the first Five-Year Plan. But the committee has concluded that the decision to transfer the Rogda reservoir by the Water Resources and Revenue Department was “correct”.

In 2008, more than 207 hectares of well irrigated government land, of which the reservoir was part, was allotted to the KSK Mahanadi Power Project for a little over Rs. 18 crore to build a 3,600-MW unit.

“We found out that Rogda water was not used for irrigation,” Dipak Kumar Patel, a BJP member on the committee, told The Hindu. Its report was based on district-level, fact-finding reports which indicated that Rogda land was “mostly fallow,” he said.

“It is ridiculous,” shouted 70-year-old Ramkhilaon of Rogda, who was employed in the 1950s as a daily wage worker to construct the reservoir. “Those who never used the reservoir or even saw it have decided its fate,” he lamented.

Soon after acquiring the land, KSK Mahanadi filled up the reservoir. In its place, now stand giant metal structures which are busy grinding stone chips.

“The committee could not locate any reservoir as KSK promptly filled it up,” said Md. Akbar, who along with the other Congress member, opposed the report’s findings. But the other three, all from the ruling BJP, ensured its passage.

In leasing out the main water source of several panchayats, the Chhattisgarh government has also flouted the Supreme Court verdict of 2011 that says community ponds cannot be used for commercial purposes. “The time has come when these malpractices must stop,” the judgment said.

This correspondent witnessed large tracts of land with paddy, not less than a few hundred acres, at Rogda turning brown for lack of water. Farmers have started migrating to other villages in search of cultivable land.

Meanwhile, the power company has planted several trees in the vicinity in order to create a ‘green belt’ in accordance with environmental guidelines.