Farmers in Sunamganj are anxious about their crops because of delays in dam construction projects in haors (wetland ecosystems) in Sunamganj.
All the dams in Sunamganj are supposed to be completed by 28 February, but the construction of many dams did not start as of 8 February.
There have been allegations that large projects have been created in the name of renovating intact dams, allocating more money than needed for many projects.
However, the Bangladesh Water Development Board officials claim that work is being done on the dams that need to be worked on. They added that there are no irregularities in the project preparation or estimation; work on almost all the dams has started and will be completed by the deadline.
High dams are usually built around the haors to protect crops from mountain slopes and untimely floods. These dams are damaged by water during the monsoon season every year. Therefore they need to be repaired again in the dry season the following year.
However, every year there are allegations of irregularities and negligence in the construction of the dams. As a result, when there is extra rain during Boishakh, floods occur in advance. The only crop in the haor, boro paddy, is ruined because of it.
Recently, there was a huge loss in 2017 due to flooding.
Although there are haors in some districts in the northeastern part of the country, Sunamganj has the highest number of haors. Sunamganj – known as the capital of haors – has 160 of them.
According to the information published by the government, boro paddy on 2,23,082 hectares of land were flooded due to the destruction of crop protection dams in 158 haors in 2017. The crops of 1,61,000 hectares of land were completely ruined. But according to the farmers, the damage was twice greater than the government's information.
After the enormous damage to the crops, allegations of irregularities and corruption arose in 2017. Two cases are ongoing regarding the dam building projects – filed by Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) and Lawyers' Association.
After that, some changes were made to the dam construction policy. The allegations of irregularities, corruption and negligence still stand nationwide.
Freedom fighter Abu Sufiyan, president of the Haor Bachao Movement, said, "Last Thursday and Friday I visited 30-35 dams in Shalla upazila. Work on many dams has not even started yet. No policy is being followed in the dams where work has started."
"Although the project signboard was supposed to be put up at the place of interest as soon as the work started, the work is being done without the signboard. Signboards were found in only seven places. Additional allocations have been made for most of the projects in Shalla," he added.
An allocation of Tk126 crore has been sought this year for the renovation and repair of 612 kilometres of dams, in 11 upazilas of Sunamganj, for crop protection of 2,23,300 hectares of boro land in 52 haors under the Bangladesh Water Development Board.
At least 787 Project Implementation Committees (PICs) will work on the dams. In favour of which initially Tk62 crore has been approved.
According to the Kajer Binimoye Taka project, the work of the dam goes on by forming a Project Implementation Committee (PIC) with the landowners and farmers. The construction and repair work of the Boro Crop Protection Dam in Haor was supposed to start after 15 December, but the work on some of the dams did not start even after two months.
Dam construction work has not started yet in many projects of the district Sadar, Jamalganj, Dharmapasha and Shalla upazilas. Haor Kharcha, Joalbhanga, Dauka and Kangla haors of these upazilas have made the least progress in dam construction.
A total of 32 projects have been approved in Sunamganj Sadar upazila. About Tk6 crore has been allocated for 22 kilometres of dam construction and repair. Tk23 lakh has been allocated for the renovation of a one-kilometre dam of PIC No. 7 at Joalbhanga Haor in Gaurarang Union of Sadar Upazila. The same amount has been allocated for the PIC No. 8 project. However, none of these are under construction according to the plan.
Many farmers have complained about the extra allocation for the third project of Kanglar Haor in Rangarchar Union. Tk21 lakh has been allocated for the renovation of Akshat Dam in Project No. 1.
The same Union Parishad (UP) member has been working in PIC No. 2 for the last three years. Although there are many allegations against UP member Suruj Ali, he has been given the responsibility for the important Borovanga closure.
Md Shahab Uddin, farmer from village Gazaria of Fenarbank Union's Pagna Haorpar, said, "Last year the allocation for the dams here was less and the work was more. This year the allocation is more, the work is less. There was no need for so much of an allocation in the three dams here. There is no big breakdown here."
A total 169 projects have been undertaken for the construction and repair of crop protection dams at: Chandrasona Thal, Kaylani, Sonamaral, Gurma, extension of Gurma, Goraduba, Jaydhana, and Dhankunia Haor of Dharmapasha Upazila.
The potential cost of these projects has been estimated at Tk32 crore. But work on many projects has not started, and they do not have signboards.
Shoni Das, farmer of Shalla's village Angaura, said, "Two projects in our area have been allocated more money than needed. Where it was possible to work with one to two lakh, about Tk20 lakh was allocated. This money is only allocated to misplace government's money."
It has been alleged that most of the dams in the Chaya haor of this upazila are intact but the dams have deemed to be fragile to get a larger financial allocation.
Bijoy Sen, general secretary of Haor Bachao movement, said "Money is being looted in the name of dam construction, and there is the involvement of many corrupt and influential people. I do not think the construction will be completed before early floods or rain. The Project Implementation Committee was not formed with the real landowners or farmers either."
"Additional allocations have been made for the dam work and unnecessary projects have been taken up. As a result, the farmers have suffered due to untimely drainage of water from the haors," he added.
Md Sabibur Rahman, executive engineer of Sunamganj's Water Development Board, said, "The formation of the PIC and construction of dams were delayed due to the flood waters staying longer than we assumed. But I hope we will be able to finish the work by 28 February."
"Dam work is being done where it needs to be done. In many areas, I have received allegations of PICs being formed with influential people – excluding farmers. However, necessary action will be taken if specific allegations are made," he added.