Dilapidated Canals of Jammu

Rajan Gandhi
Irrigation plays an important role in the agriculture of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Our State does not receive rain throughout the year and sometimes it is quite insufficient, it is neither uniform nor certain.
In Jammu region temperature conditions favour cultivation of crops throughout the year but due to non availability of water in the region the plant growth is limited. Rainy season provides sufficient water from July to September while the remaining months of the year are by and large dry. In the absence of the Ground water Atlas  J&K doesn’t have a scientific data for each principal aquifer, a rock unit that will yield usable quantities of water to the wells in that region as such tube well irrigation is not promoted in the state.
In Jammu division canals and tributaries contribute about 94% of the total irrigational area, Ranbir Canal in Jammu and Pratap canal in Akhnoor while rest 6% is irrigated by wells, tanks and other sources. The 60-km-long Ranbir canal starts from Akhnoor and ends at Dumi Malpur village in RS Pura tehsil. Initially apart for irrigation purposes, it was used for navigation purpose to carry essential commodities from Akhnoor to Jammu and vice versa. Through its distribution system of 460 km in length (17 Nos. of distributaries, 22 No’s of sub distributions, 39 Nos. of minors , 4 No’s of sub minors and 1301 outlets) it provides irrigation to an area of 29700 hectares upto village Nekowal on Sialkote border of Pakistan and enroute covers 3 tehsils, 5 block, 12 panchayats  and  489 Villages of Jammu. Similarly Partap Canal is 33.69 km in length passes through Akhnoor tehsil along with 157.24 km of distribution networks irrigating 9,028 hectares covering 28 Panchayats, 89 villages and municipal committees of Jourian and Khour. During pre independence, Jammu-Kathua region known as Kandi belt was full of wild vegetation. It had many enclosures which were strictly guarded by forest guards under Maharaja’s rule. As a result the whole Kandi belt was substantially green and a lovable abode for wild animals. After independence Kandi belt came under large-scale encroachments. The wood was cut, wild animals were killed, houses and rural infrastructures came up resulting in continuous deforestation and loss of vegetation. Population started increasing and the pressure on land and water resources increased. Tanks, wells and chappars started drying and cultivation of crops became extremely difficult. In seventies, Ravi-Tawi canal was commissioned to irrigate the parched cultivable areas, which triggered agricultural development in Kandi belt. The first component of Ravi-Tawl canal was Tawi Lift Scheme located on Tawi river at Bahu Fort, Jammu, which was started in 1978. With 300 cusecs of water it covered an area of 12,800 ha. The second component viz; Ravi Canal from river Ravi at Lakhanpur, Basantpur and Shahpur barrage were also commissioned simultaneously with 1150 cusecs water to irrigate 53,900 ha area. The Ravi-Tawi canal irrigation made a significant impact in Kandi belt and considerably changed the land use of the area. The cropping pattern changed from low water to high water requirement crops. Crops like Maize, Sorghum, Til, Moth, Mash, Moong, Bajra, Cotton, Wheat, Barley, Oats, Mustard and Linseed gave way to paddy, maize for green cobs, gobi ,mustard, potato, wheat, mushroom and vegetables . The full potential of the canal has not been achieved due to certain contributing factors, the prominent among them being very old pumping machinery, low and interrupted power supplies, bad condition of the canal and its distribution system, and poor maintenance of the canal due to inadequate yearly funding over the years.
Agriculture is the predominant sector in the economy of Jammu and Kashmir. Directly and indirectly, it supports about 80 % of the population besides contributing nearly 60% of state revenue, which adequately explains the over dependency of the population on agriculture. The overall economic growth of the state depends largely on the progress of agricultural sector, the development of which becomes even more important in the context of the very nominal progress it has made in secondary sectors. Of the total area of 15531 hectare under rice production 49.36% is occupied by Jammu district followed by Kathua (26.6%) Udhampur(11.52%), Rajouri (5.83%),Doda (3.27%) and Poonch( 3.10%). In case of wheat production maximum area is again under Jammu district i.e. about 39.06% while minimum area is under Doda and Poonch district i.e. about 4.01% and 5.92% respectively. Maize is third major crop grown in Jammu Province with 25.52% production by Udhampur district followed by Doda (23.87%), Rajouri (21.10%), and Poonch (11.11%) districts respectively. Majority of basmati rice is exported thereby earning valuable revenue for the state but canals are the mainstay of this crop.
While our irrigation solely depends upon canals yet human activity and administrative apathy together is contributing to slow death of these canals .For the lifeline of farmers in Jammu, the ruling government has failed to chalk out any long-term plan to save the water body and the much-hyped Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has remained a photo feature for the ruling parties. Unplanned residential colonies and illegal encroachments have brought the canals on the verge of destruction as people have turned the water bodies into a dumping ground of solid waste and sewerage generated. Rotten vegetables, debris, non-degradable waste can be seen floating at every nook and corner and authorities turn blind eye to all this. In the absence of any strict enforcement of the environmental laws by the Jammu Municipal Corporation,UEED and the Flood Control Department people are leaving no stone unturned to destroy the canal system. Almost all tributaries of canals have been turned into drains at places like Tallab Tillo, Trikuta Nagar, Railway Station, Nai Basti or Satwari. Several sewerage nallahs dump hundreds of metric tons of garbage in these canals everyday due to which not only the depth and intake capacity of the canal is decreasing with each passing day but this waste water mixing in canal water is hazardous for farmers and farm products produced. More than 25-30 % of the water in the canals and field channels across Jammu is wastewater from urban areas. With no sewerage treatment plant operational till now majority of untreated water flows in these canals only. All stakeholders -farmers, traders and consumers – do not have any knowledge about adverse effects of wastewater and wastewater-irrigated produce. Medical professionals reveal that a sizeable number of cases reported are due to polluted water-borne problems like low levels of skin irritation, scaling and problem of coliform. WHO’s Sanitation Safety Planning (SSP) manual has been flouted blatantly and JMC, UEED, State Pollution Control Board have just turned blind eyes to this mess for which they should be taken to task.
Construction of illegal footbridges over tributaries of the canals is a common sight .One can see wide footbridges which are used frequently for commercial activities, without any objection or permission from the concerned authorities. Farmers allege that misuse of canals and construction of concrete paths and bridges obstruct the flow of water and also lead to accumulation of garbage. Heaps of garbage stuck beneath these bridges can be seen that pose a serious threat to the health of nearby residents. But official apathy continues with who cares attitude. Owing to all this and the absence of complete de-silting of canals the water does not reached to the peak end villages.
Though departments cite scarcity of funds as reason for not de-silting the canals and tributaries but the fact is that under PMDP and Smart City programs enough funds are available to ERA, JMC, UEED , Irrigation and Flood Control departments but no detailed DPR is there to set right things . With no further future plan of new canals and receding water flow in the existing canals one wonders how the state government is going to increase the food grain production in coming years. Lessons are to be learnt from past mistakes and as such government must initiate detailed report on maintenance of these canals along with a follow up auditing of funds utilized by different departments for this purpose. Immediate setup of STP (sewerage treatment plants) at different places to stop flow of direct sewerage into canals and tributaries and stringent action against the defaulters is the need of the hour. JMC, UEED and Irrigation- Flood Control departments must own up their responsibilities or otherwise our state should be prepared for famine like situation in near future. Earlier rulers from Maharajas to Jenab Sheikh Abdullah were men of far sighted vision who timely realized the need and potential of canals but present system is immune to the problems of farmers and it seems an agitation by farmers only will wake them up. As they say time is money which is running out for authorities.
“Everything that happens to canals matter to us.”