Bund bond

Bund bond IN A dozen villages in the Khem Karan sector (Amritsar district), bordering Pakistan, August 5 was a day of festivity. That day the villagers had completed a kind of dream project: a 2-km-long anti-flood bund on the Sutlej with their own labour. "We have done in 4 months whht the government couldn't do in 40 years," says Karnail Singh, sarpanch (village head), village Muthianwala. The local gurdwara had supplied food for the workers, and with diesel-run tractors, and the army chipping in their bit, the project had been pushed through in record time.

Encircled by Pakistan on 3 sides, these villages of the Muthianwala block were ravaged by the Sutlej river and Nikasu nullah (small canal) annually. "The floods submerged 500 hectares. We managed only a winter crop of wheat, and grew no paddy," recalls Naranjan Singh, a panchayat member.

In the mid-'50s, the government constructed a meagrp and ineffective bund along the southern bank of the river. But the Sutlej could not be contained, and over time, the entire area became barren and impoverished. "For more than a decade, we've pleaded in vain with the district administration," says Karnail Singh. The bureaucracy's stock reply was, no funds. Besides, they said, that since these villages are in the border area, the army alone could work there.

Finally, last November, Karnail Singh and his men pleaded with the 29 Infantry Brigade, and the tough warriors proved softer humans than the secretariat mandarins. The army consented, notwithstanding the demurring civil authorities. "We promised them assistance, and asked them to prepare a community action plan," says Major L C Patnaik, Brigade Major, 29 Brigade. The last minor hitch was a formal permission from the ministry of defence (MOD), which soon relented to persuasion.

The task was a huge one, but Punjab's excellent tradition of kar seva (community service through voluntary labour) saw the villagers through. "The bund was to benefit a dozen villages, so they had all to be mobilised," informs Pyara Singh of Muthianwala. A network of panchayats was created to ensure smooth functioning of the kar seva.

The unenviable task of persuading the villagers to sacrifice some land was undertaken by Pargat Singh, the granthi (head priest) of village Chhar Sahib Gazal. "They just gave a chadhawa (an offering) of land to the Almighty," says Pargat Singh calmly.

The MOD's green signal came in February, and work began in March. "With 40 -tractors belonging to the villagers and 2 of our bulldozers working day and night for 22 days, there was much excitement in the air," recalls Ram Suresh Sahini, a Lance Naik witl@ the brigade. The army contributed 1,000 litres of diesel.

Even the kids chipped in. "We helped the elders and car- ried basketfuls of earth from the fields to the bund," chirps lit- tle Nithan Singh of Gazal village. They slogged, till the intense heat of April and the humanpower needed for harvesting stalled operations; but they resumed in July, and the bund was ready by August.

Apart from the Rs 4 crore which the villagers saved the public exchequer, they realised the value of cooperation. On August 11, the Sutlej waters breached the old bund at night and entered Muthianwala. The entire village rushed to the site. "Throughout the night, despite heavy and incessant rains, we chopped logs and plugged the breaches. By the morning, we had fought back the river," says Sewa Singh of Muthianwala.

The villagers are now ready to strengthen the new bund and maintain it on their own.. "This requires a lot of money and expertise, much beyond their means. These people need official support," says Brigadier Rattan Kaul, Commander, 29 Brigade. A highpower Central Water Commission team recently visited the area to inspect the bund. "The team applauded the villagers' effort and assured them of central government funds," informs Kaul. And the villagers sure could do with that. But will that at all materialise?

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