Embankments to save crops: Who will free PIC from syndicates?

Not completing the embankment in a haor is extremely worrisome especially when insecurity over food grains looms large globally due to Russia-Ukraine war

Food security of Bangladesh largely depends on the production of the boro crop and a large amount of boro rice is produced in the haor areas. Early floods inundate the haor areas due to excessive rains in the state of Meghalaya in India in April-May for the last few years. Alongside these untimely floods, erosion of weaker embankments damage the boro crop production every year. This year also the farmers are apprehensive as all the embankments have not been repaired in due time. Why do these failures to construct and repair embankments recur every year?

A huge amount of crops was damaged as early floods and flash floods damaged many embankments in 2017. Local farmers and representatives of civic bodies brought allegations of irregularities and corruption against the contractors involved with the construction of the embankments. In the wake of criticisms, the authorities abolished the contractor system and introduced Project Implementation Committee (PIC), consisting stakeholders, local eminent persons and the administration, to select and implement the projects. Actual farmers are the stakeholders, say the guidelines.

But in just a few years, the PICs have turned into syndicates of locally influential political leaders and the field level administration officials. Leaders of Awami League and BNP have also reached in a consensus over this. As a result, attention has been shifted to increasing the number of projects and amount of allocation in those. But the risk of crop damage due to not constructing and repairing the embankments on time remain the same.

Not more than 60 per cent of the construction of embankments has been completed even after extending the time by 10 days this year, says a Prothom Alo report. The work was scheduled to be completed by the end of February. The Water Development Board, however, has claimed to have completed 90 per cent work and all the work is going on as per the guidelines.

But this claim of WDB could not assure us like the farmers from haor areas. As per the guidelines, the PIC was supposed to be constituted by November and work begun within 15 December. But that was not done. What could be greater violation of the guidelines than this? The construction of embankments had to be done hastily as the work could not be started on time. As a result, many sections of the embankment will remain loose and not be able to bear the onslaught of advanced floodwater.

Every year questions are raised about the construction of embankments in haor areas on time. Though there was a great damage of crop in floods in the haor last year, the issue does not get due consideration. The government pledges many things when a crisis like advanced flood emerges. But everything goes as usual when the crisis is over.

Not completing the embankment in the haors is extremely worrisome especially when insecurity over foodgrains is looming large globally due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Who would compensate if this crop gets damaged due to erosion of loosely built embankments?

The PIC has to be made free from the clout of the syndicate of politically influential people and field level administrative officials. But who will ensure this?