Honourable Minister, Dept of Irrigation and Waterways
The members of the AITMC Web Team had a talk with Rajib Bandyopadhyay, Cabinet Minister, Department of Irrigation and Waterways.
How is the Irrigation Department charting new courses of development in West Bengal?
There was a time when the people of the state were not even aware about the role of the Irrigation Dept. After all, the livelihood of people is dependent on irrigation. On one hand, we provide water requisite for the agricultural needs, and on the other we play a great role in flood-control; people were oblivious to this for a long time. People had a notion that floods were man-made and all irrigation dept does, is build boulders. After Mamata Banerjee took over as the CM of the state, people’s perception has changed and we have unleashed a slew of development projects.
Let me come to Irrigation Structure; this concept was unheard of before. During the Left Front regime, a barrage was proposed on the river Teesta in the year 1978. The barrage is still not complete. We tried to restructure the barrage and give it a new shape. Our endeavour bore fruit and helped us in providing water to 1,10,740 hectares of land. We are also constructing a “mini barrage” in Birbhum. Every dictrict will have an irrigation canal. This year we have raised our target of providing water for ‘boro’ cropping to 14 lakh hectares; this was 12 lakh hectares last year and 11 lakh hectares the year before that.
We are an agriculture-dependent state. The Chief Minister has given a clarion call for second Green Revolution. To fulfil her vision, we are trying to provide irrigation facilities till the tail-end of the spectrum. Apart from that, we are also focussing on rejuvenating rivers, lakes and other major water bodies. We have a target of working on the rejuvenation of about 250 km water bodies in the state.
We have begun the work for concretisation of bamboo bridges. This will help in asset creation as well as be of great use to people. Between 2006 and 2011, only 6 bridges were built in the state. After we took over, we concretised 56 bridges. From Coochbehar to Sunderbans, we are conducting surveys for constructing concrete bridges, so that ambulances and vehicles can pass.
We have taken up some new projects, like the Darakeshwar-Dandeshwar project in Bankura, Purulia, West Midnapore. We have started the Subarnarekha project. From renovation of canals and rivers to building new ones, we have started a huge development project, across the state. We do not have a magic wand, but we wish to attain a milestone in public service.
What is the role of your department in flood protection?
One of the key areas of functioning of our department is to provide flood protection. We provided flood protection to 139 km area in North Bengal and 200 km in the South. There has hardly been any work done in the last 35 years. We have a huge burden of debt. Yet, we are trying to make ends meet, and working with the vision of Mamata Banerjee as our guiding principle.
We are working on two important areas: Ghatal Master Plan and Kandi Master Plan. Our state funding is ready. But we are not receiving any cooperation from the Union Government. Earlier, the modalities demanded that Central Govt bear 75% of the cost of a project, and the state should pay 25%. Now it has changed to 50:50. The Chief Minister has written to the Prime Minister regarding this issue.
We are earnest about flood protection because we live in a flood prone zone. Be it Assam or Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Odisha or even Jharkhand, excess rains in these areas may result in floods in our state. But thanks to the leadership of the Chief Minister, we have been successful in averting any major crisis. Whatever damage we faced, has been negligible. We are learning from our experiences and trying to modernise our flood protection system. The state faced the Aila disaster in 2009, but the erstwhile Govt did not spend a penny on flood protection work after that. We have completed building embankments in 20 out of 60 km of Aila affected areas. The rest of the work will be completed soon.
How is your experience of working with Mamata Banerjee?
I must say I am lucky enough to be working with a boss like her. I used to work in the corporate sector. She was leader of the party. Heeding her call, I entered politics. She always told us, it is better to help one lakh people secure a job than enjoying a salary packet of one lakh rupees. This message touched by heart. I am fortunate enough to be in the West Bengal cabinet. She is always inquisitive and has immense knowledge. I have a long experience in administrative work, but I have never worked with a leader like Mamata Banerjee.
Any message for the party workers ahead of Lok Sabha elections?
My primary identity is that I am a worker of the Trinamool party; everything else is secondary. I work for the party 365 days of the year. Howrah faced two elections in a short span of time. I strived hard to connect to the people, and reach out to the masses. The party workers are motivated. It does not matter when the Lok Sabha polls are held, we are prepared. We are prepared with our homework, whenever the exams are announced we are ready to face it.