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Kumbh: Bane for farmers?

When the Godmen have been clamoring for release of extra water into the river during Maha Kumbh 2013 for Shahi Snans, thousands of water melon planters have been dreading the worst damage of all.

More than 50,000 farmers who live off water melon plantations in the dried river beds of Ganga in Niva, Begumsarai, Kandhaipur, Kasrauli, Bamrauli, Asrauli, Hatwa, Mohammadpur and Rasulpur Maryadi have already invested thousands of ruprees in sowing and nurturing the water melon seeds. The plantations are on the dried river bed of Ganga and if more water is released, their plantations would be inundated.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been monitoring the availability of water from Tehri dam in the Ganga at Allahabad during the Kumbh Mela, has issued directives to control the pollution load in the Yamuna river during the festival period. The Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDCL) has agreed to release 250 cubic metre per second (cumecs) water from December 21, last year to February 20, and 220 cumecs water from February 21 to February 28 in view of the demand for Allahabad Kumbh snans (bathing).

Jawed Usmani, chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh government, had directed the officials to ensure 2,500 cubic feet per second or cusecs of water is released into the river between January 1 and February 28 this year. Subsequently, 1,500 cusecs of water is to be released from the Narora barrage until March 15. The principal secretary of irrigation department claims 2,516 cusecs water has already been released from the Narora barrage since December 20. Depending on the need, nearly 9,000 cusecs more would be released from the Tehri dam in the coming days, he says.

A conglomerate of religious organizations, however, continued to demand more water stating that the water being released from Tehri Dam and Narora was not enough.

Md Gazi, a farmer in Rasulpur Maryadi, downstream Ganga, said that several farmers have lost a lot of money due to the hail. The seeds were planted, manure provided to the plants, but the first hail killed them. Most of the plantations are on the patch of land from where Ganga flowed. Water melons grow better when the water is four feet below the ground where it is sown.

However, since the water had receded very far this year, thousands of farmers planted water melon seeds there hoping better returns. Water melon is sown in November and the crop is ready for harvest between April and May. “Even of the water in the river rises a bit more, it would flood our plantations and we would be doomed,” said Md Gazi.

The local varieties of watermelons of Allahabad is high on demand and are even exported to Nepal and Bhutan where consignments worth several lakhs are sent. One of the famous varieties is Madhuri 64, a hybrid of watermelon cultivated in Andhra Pradesh.
The belt along the Ganga from Phaphamau onwards is the hub of watermelon farming at places like Dafri, Kulesarghat and Puramufti in Kaushambi. The scorching summer sun is a boon for watermelon as its sweetness is directly proportional to exposure to sunlight.

The rise in pollution levels in the river has hit the farmers hard. There are no irrigation canals in such fields. Earlier, farmers used to pump river from Ganga into their fields. However, with the water getting polluted, this is no more an option. Water from Ganga is so toxic that it makes the water melon plants wither.

So, Md Gazi and others like him have to bore 30 ft on the sandbank for cleaner water. Each bore irrigates 5 bighas of land and for this the farmers have to shell out Rs 6,000. A farmer gets about 150 water melons from a bigha of plantation.

Earlier, the water in the river had healing properties, says Md Giyas. “Sick people used to camp near the river, stay here for 2 months and drink river water to heal themselves. But now, gone are those days. The water cannot even be used for irrigation,” he rues.

Soma Basu

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