We did not have to face food crisis during Covid. Food production saved us from a major economic catastrophe. But could we do any justice to the agriculture and farmers? Despite the huge allocations and subsidies of the government, why has the pitiful plight of the farmers not ended?
There was no shortage of arrangements for the construction of crop protection embankments in the haors. But the farmers did not get that embankment on time. As a result, the crops of the haor in Sunamganj is now under threat even before the harvesting season. Meanwhile, several areas in Meghalaya and Cherrapunji in India have been submerged due to heavy rains.
Prothom Alo has published several editorials alleging sluggishness and irregularities in the construction of the embankment. We also expressed concern and called for completion of the embankment within the stipulated time. The local administration and Water Development Board (WDB) did not pay any heed to that request. This time crops worth Tk 1.21 billion is supposed to be protected by 726 projects in the haor of Sunamganj. The construction of the embankment was supposed to be completed by 26 February, but it was not.
The time was fixed at 75 days and after 64 days, more than half of the work remained undone. The embankments that were hastily constructed at the last minute were also unsustainable. Central leaders of the Haor Bachao (save the haor) movement say, "There were various irregularities and negligence in the work of the embankment. We have highlighted all these issues visiting several haors, but to no avail.”
In such a situation, the instance of the disaster of 2017 in the haor was raised repeatedly. In that year, the price of rice rose steeply in the whole country due to destruction of the haor crop. Then the issue of irregularities of WDB contractors in the construction of the embankment came up for discussion. After that the Project Implementation Committee (PIC) was formed with the help of UP members, farmers and other beneficiaries.
The district and upazila level committees on formation of PICs and project determination are headed by deputy commissioners and upazila nirbahi officers respectively, and WDB officials are also involved. There have been various allegations about PIC over the years. Even after the completion of the work, the members of PIC continue to struggle to get the payment. Apart from that, there are many objections about the formation of PIC under the influence of local political leaders.
This year, paddy has been produced in more than 200,000 hectares of land in the district. The target of rice production is about 900,000 tons. Now it will take another 10 to 12 days for the paddy to ripen in 154 haors of different sizes. But will the farmer be able to take that rice home? We fear that some corrupt officials would try to prove the PIC a failure. As a result, the contractors will regain control over the construction work worth millions. We repeatedly called on the district and upazila administrations to take action against this.
We do not see any steps. Rice cultivated in haors in Boro season is the first to enter the market. As a result, the first priority should be to protect the crops of the haor at this moment. A demand has been raised in the parliament on Monday to strengthen the embankment to protect the crops of Sunamganj haor. A Jatiya Party MP has requested the Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture to look into the matter at once. WDB, meanwhile, says their people were inspecting in every embankment. Everything is being done according to the situation. We want to see what action they take.