The farmers of Sylhet's haor (wetland ecosystem) areas fear that their crops might be damaged by floods as the work of Haor Protection Dam-Building Project is going slow.
Construction of the dams was expected to be completed by 28 February this year; however, it is nowhere near being completed yet.
According to volunteer organisation Environment and Haor Development Organisation, progress in the project was only 62% till 7 March. Soil has not been filled on the remaining 38% of the dams.
The dams that have been filled with soil still need work such as digging, maintaining slopes, finishing the soil, and planting grass. Additionally, the organisation has complained of irregularities in the work on 37% of the dams.
Environment and Haor Development Organisation President Kashmir Reja and its Vice President Professor Mizanur Rahman of Forest and Environment Science Department at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology disclosed this after inspecting 102 out of 811 haor protection dams in Sunamganj in person.
However, dam implementation district committee member secretary and Sunamganj Water Development Board's Executive Engineer Sabibur Rahman denied the allegations.
He said, "No unnecessary project has been undertaken this time. The dams are being constructed according to plan and no extra allocation has been given either."
"All projects are undertaken on the basis of the recommendations of the upazila committee," he added.
"[At least] 82% of the work has been completed already," he claimed, admitting that some projects have been delayed due to the late release of water from the haor and the rest of the work will be completed soon.
Meanwhile, the haor farmers are anxious about their crops due to delays in the dam building project.
The Sylhet region has already seen rains this month. The Meteorological Department said there could be more rain this month. The farmers are fearing crop losses due to untimely floods.
Aftab Mia, a farmer of Shonir haor of Sunamganj's Tahirpur upazila, said, "Although the soil of our haor dam has been filled, grass has not been planted yet. Meanwhile, the rain has started. If the rain continues, the crops will be washed away."
This time boro is being cultivated on 2,23,300 hectares of land in 52 haors in 11 upazilas of Sunamganj. A project worth Tk133 crore is being implemented for the construction and repair of 619 kilometres of earthen dams under the Water Development Board to protect the crops of that land.
The 811 Project Implementation Committees (PIC), comprising farmers, are working on the dams.
According to the government, in 2017, the crop protection dam broke due to untimely floods and 2,23,72 hectares of boro crops of 154 haors were submerged. Crops on 1,61,000 hectares were damaged.
But according to the farmers, the damage was twice that amount. After the crop loss that year, there were allegations of irregularities and corruption in the construction of the dams.
After that, the dam construction policy was changed and the PICs were formed with the help of local beneficiaries. However, allegations of irregularities have remained.
In a recent press conference on the latest progress of the dam work, Sylhet Divisional Commissioner Md Mashiur Rahman observed that the work on dams was lagging behind at Shalla, Jagannathpur, Tahirpur, Chatak, and Doarabazar among 11 upazilas.
at Shalla, 10 out of 156 projects; at Jagannathpur, 27 out of 37 projects; at Tahirpur, 12 out of 170 projects; at Chatak, 8 out of 18 projects, and at Doarabazar, 25 out of 47 projects have not had their groundwork completed yet.
A report of the Environment and Haor Development Organisation pointed out that till 7 March, the soil in 58% of the dams has not been compacted well while grass has been planted only on 7% of the dams.
The organisation cited delays in project estimates and committee formation, delays in releasing funds, the late discharge of water from the haor and a shortage of dredger machines as reasons for the belated construction of the dam.
The report also identified scarcity of dam soil, unnecessary projects, an allocation of extra funds, irregularities in the formation of project committees, and nepotism as problems.
The organisation recommends that project estimates not be delayed, project committees be formed in advance, funds be released in time, project committees be formed in compliance with policies, importance be given to the views of local farmers in project formulation, and that alternatives to dams and digging rivers be considered.
Water Development Board Sylhet Region Chief Engineer SM Shahidul Islam said "The deadline has passed. There is no scope for extending time. Work must be completed quickly at any cost. After completing the work, the upazila committee will hold a press conference and make arrangements to inform everyone."