At the bottom of Uttar Pradesh
Orai/Jhansi, November 3, 2006
Government apathy has wed nature's indifference in Bundelkhand. And together they have wreaked havoc on the land and its people.
The region, which is semi-arid, also has a number of rivers, with plenty of water, in its belly. But the 6,852 kilometre of canals crisscrossing the UP area of the region is ill-maintained and runs dry, bearing testimony to the administration's failure to harness water resources supplied by perennial rivers like the Sindh, the Pahuj, the Betwa, the Dhasan, the Ken, the Baghein, the Paisuni and the Tons, plus their numerous tributaries. Most of the canals are relics of the British era and have now fallen victim to post-Independence neglect. Most of them are almost dry. They have water only up to a distance near the head.
Nature, too, has been cruel. Just like the successive governments, the monsoon has quite often failed the people of the region for over 20 years.
"Despite these rivers, the region is dry. Nothing explains the administration's apathy better," says Pradeep Jain, MLA from Jhansi.
"The region requires proper water management. The British-era water management needs to be followed here. The Chandellas and the British gave the region a wonderful system. But post-Independence neglect ruined it all. For years, ponds and canals have not been desilted. Besides, they have also been encroached upon," says Ram Krishna Shukla, an environmentalist in the region.
Apart from 6,852 km of canals, the seven districts together have over 1,604 government tubewells. Most of them do not work due to ill maintenance or fall in groundwater level caused by unchecked exploitation.
So dire is the situation that a diesel engine requires about 15 to 20 litres of fuel to pump ground water and irrigate a one-acre area.
Ironically, the region was once famed for rich cultivation of beetle leaves, singharas, kamal gattas, kamal naals and ginger-all high water requirement crops.
How Chandellas and the British managed it!
"From about 831 AD to 1300 AD, when the Chandellas ruled, till the exit of the British, the situation was different. The Chandellas and British both understood well the need for irrigation systems and networks in the area. They had tapped rainwater and water from rivers, nullahs, as well as ground water in a scientific and sustainable manner. Farmland in the region flourished. The Chandellas built several kinds of water reservoirs and irrigation systems like baawdi (well), pokhar (small pond), taalab (pond), taal (big pond) and sagar (huge pond) by making check dams on the path of streams and creating canals out of them. The British introduced the system of canal networks fed by rivers," says Ram Krishna Shukla.
"Chandella ingenuity was strikingly demonstrated in the temples at Khajuraho and the irrigation systems built by the dynasty that helped to sustain large semi-arid areas. A millennium later, the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, borrowed a leaf from the Chandellas when he decided to dam the streams in the region to irrigate the poor soil," write Rita Sharma and Vijai Sharma, both IAS officers, in their book-'The Forts of Bundelkhand'.