Crops destroyed due to waterlogging; khap panchayat bans paddy cultivation

“Our village is unique: here people do not pray for rains but for a drought,” quipped Krishen Kumar, a farmer of Mundahera village of Jhajjar, as he showed how a rise in the water level in his village and adjoining areas has led to waterlogging and destruction of standing crops in his village.

While after the construction of the Jawaharlal Nehru Canal in the late 70s, the water table in the area had started rising, the problem began when some farmers began sowing paddy to make use of the standing waters.

“That was okay for only about 20 per cent farmers, whose land was on higher ground, but for others it meant submerged fields. The higher fields began experiencing more nooni (higher salt levels) which even harmed arhar, jowar and cotton crops that require less water,” said Krishen. Around 10 villages in the region, just about 70 km from Delhi, have badly suffered due to this problem.

Villagers protest

As clamour for corrective action grew, the Jakhar khap panchayat in neighbouring Salhavaas village in May 2011 banned paddy cultivation in 36 villages in the region. “This year no one, barring a few families in the Akeri village close to the canal, has sown paddy. People have protested about it to the Deputy Commissioner and a social boycott of those who did not adhere to the directive is on the cards,” said Krishen.

The villagers see in the khap decision a glimmer of hope. Krishen, who lost his right hand in a thresher accident about five years ago, said the selfish approach of some had led to stagnation of water in his fields and destruction of the standing jowar (sorghum) crop.

Krishen hailed the khap decision to impose a fine of Rs. 5,100 on those growing paddy. In fact, he wanted more stringent action. “Follow-up action in the form of social boycott and expulsion from the caste will have greater impact.”

The former CRPF Inspector, Tek Chand, insisted the Jakhar khap decision was for the larger good. If people actually abide by it, it would help lower the salt content in the soil within the next three to four years. “Right now, about 20 per cent fields in the region remain submerged all through the year. In about 60 per cent, there is deficient production as nothing can be grown till mid-October when they start drying up and crops like mustard are sown.’’

While most farmers are able to grow wheat which is sown by mid-November, as by then the fields would have considerably dried up, Tek Chand said the output was normally low due to the degradation of the soil quality.

In Salhavaas village, Rajinder Kumar along with about a dozen other farmers has filed cases against the Irrigation Department to protest the siphoning off of water from the canal by some farmers who have land near it. “This excess water is destroying the livelihood of nearly two lakh people in the region. The government should also act tough in the matter.”

A way out?

Mool Chand, who retired from the Agriculture Department, said there was hope as deep borewells were being sunk at Beri to make the excess water flow to the deeper water tables. “On the other side of the Nehru canal in Dhaniya, Bhakli and Kosli villages, the water table is about 30 to 35 feet below the surface. So, such a move to drain out excess water from here would benefit people in the entire area.”