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Farmers seeking canal water in 75 villages to sit on indefinite dharna outside Mann’s Dhuri office from today

Farmers of around 75 villages will sit on an indefinite dharna outside Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s office in Dhuri from Wednesday in protest against non-completion of a canal water project, the work on which got started initially but has been gathering dust for a long time now. Mann represents the Dhuri Assembly constituency in the Punjab Legislative Assembly.

Aggrieved over groundwater depletion year after year, farmers of villages of Dhuri, Malerkotla, Amargarh and Mehal Kalan are seeking the canal water for irrigation and drinking water purposes.

The protest will be carried out under the banner of Nehri Paani Prapti Sangharsh Committee (NPPSC) which is being supported by 32 farmer unions of Punjab.

Mehar Singh, a farmer from Issapur village of Dhuri constituency of Sangrur district, has around four-and-a-half acres of land on which he grows paddy and wheat. Mehar Singh – who is also the vice-president of Kirti Kisan Union, Sangrur district – said, “In 1986 the groundwater level in our area was at 60 feet. Now, it is at 225 feet or more, but water for irrigation is available only after 400 feet. A project was started in 1986 by the then CM Surjit Singh Barnala to link the Bathinda branch and Kotla branch canals flowing from the sideways to nearly 75 villages. However, the project hasn’t seen the light of day while we are facing groundwater depletion year after year now.”

Bhupinder Singh Longowal, an office-bearer of Kirti Kisan Union, said, “Farmers of around 75 villages of Dhuri, Malerkotla, Amargarh and Mehal Kalan will be starting an indefinite dharna outside the office of Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann in his own constituency (Dhuri) from September 20 onwards. We had taken up this issue with the CM several times since the AAP government came to power, but nothing concrete came out of it. So, we are left with no choice but to protest. If farmers of the CM’s own constituency are in this terrible state, imagine the condition of farmers in the rest of Punjab.”

Hardyal Singh Katron, a farmer of Katron village in Dhuri constituency, said, “Kanganwal water outlet, Rohira water outlet and Kotla water outlet had been planned to link them to many villages of Dhuri, Malerkotla, Amargarh and Mehal Kalan way back in 1986. Land had also been acquired, but no work took off after that. The Punjab CM often says that only 34% of canal water is being used by Punjab residents against 87% by Rajasthan. We have been demanding canal water from the current CM since he took over the reins in Punjab, but he is not even listening to us.” Hardyal Singh Katron has about 5 acres of land on which he grows wheat and paddy.

It may be noted that most of these villages were part of the erstwhile Malerkotla Riyasat before India got freedom. According to the locals, the nawab of Malerkotla had refused to pay taxes to the British to take canal water, and so, the region survived on groundwater or rain.

“In 1956 a tube well corporation was formed in Punjab and one tube well each was installed in every village which used to cater to the needs of irrigation. Later private connections were also started. Now, all the government tube wells have stopped working as the water level has gone down and the tube wells haven’t been repaired as well. Even the private tube wells are finding it hard to irritate the fields now. We have been asking the government to provide us canal water network before the groundwater wells run dry completely, but it is turning a deaf ear to our pleas,” said Jarnail Singh Jahangir, from Jahangir village of Dhuri constituency.

Mehar Singh said, “One more water outlet was to be carved out. Its earlier plan made in 1986 was from the bridge of Salar, but now a new plan has been made from Mahorana, the land for which needs to be acquired and the government is going too slow on it. Farmers are ready for this project, but I can’t understand what the government officials are waiting for.”

Jarnail Singh Jahangir said, “In my village water for drinking and irrigation is available at 500 feet. Every year the water level is going down. Since basmati prices keep fluctuating, we have no other option but to grow the water-guzzling paddy. A few of us grow sugarcane as well, but a sugar mill in Dhuri is yet to pay Rs 20 crore outstanding to farmers and has refused to run the mill this season. In such a scenario, where should the farmers go?”

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Of these 75 villages, around 30 villages are from Malerkotla constituency, nearly 13 each from Dhuri and Amargarh, while nearly 20 villages are from Mehal Kalan constituency.

Malerkotla and Amargarh fall in Malerkotla district, Mehal Kalan is part of Barnala district, while Dhuri is in Sangrur district.

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“All these constituencies fall in Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency, which had been represented by Bhagwant Mann from 2014-2022. Mann often used to sit with us on dharnas during the Congress rule, but now he is indifferent to these issues,” Bhupinder Singh Longowal said, adding that “earlier we had given a memorandum addressed to the CM at his Dhuri office on August 8, 2022, later on September 17, 2022, through the tehsildar of the area. In October 2022 panchayats of 47 villages had passed resolutions seeking supply of canal water. On March 6, 2023, we had organised a mahapanchayat in Dhuri in this regard. We were assured of a meeting with the CM at Kisan Bhawan Chandigarh on March 13, 2023, but he did not turn up, instead his officials met us. In May 2023 we did another convention in Moga raising this issue, and now we will be starting an indefinite dharna from September 20, a prior intimation for which has been given to the administration”.

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