WATER SUPPLY IN GORKHA ADIVASI AREAS: Tea gardens in India watered by Bhutan – mutual trust and friendship a must to remain intact ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Jaigaon, June 13: If dams are modern India’s temples, a group of eight tea gardens in Jalpaiguri district have been the new religion’s outcastes.
Six decades after Independence, these gardens have never tasted Indian water, their 60,000 residents perhaps alone in the country in being denied a necessity that even parched Rajasthan can claim by right.
But now these tea estates, which have for almost a century drunk and bathed in mountain water imported from neighbouring Bhutan, are ready to enter India’s water supply map in six weeks’ time, thanks to a central scheme.
Ever since they came into existence a century ago near the Bhutan foothills, these gardens have been drawing water for their households from the Himalayan streams and lakes across the border, through pipelines built with the garden authorities’ own money.
The surplus water went into the tea bushes and factories, which otherwise made do with the local groundwater — unfit for drinking or household use — pumped out by tube wells.
But from the middle of July, deep tube wells will start pumping clean water from several hundred feet under the Indian soil to these gardens in Nagrakata block under the Sajal Dhara scheme.
After these tea gardens came up, their owners had approached the local authorities in Bhutan’s Samtse district and requested the use of their water, which they had in plenty, a senior Bhutan government official said.
The gardens then laid pipes, some up to 5km long, through Bhutan’s forests and hills and erected high reservoirs in that country, employing local Bhutanese labour.
“It was an agreement between the tea gardens and our people that epitomises the friendship between the two countries,” the official said.
The arrangement continued even after Independence, when the country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, highlighted the importance of public water supply by terming irrigation dams the “temples of modern India” along with power stations.
In the 1980s, Thimphu told the Samtse administration to levy a “water rent” on the eight gardens as a “commercial token”.
The tax was nominal considering the 36 lakh litres the gardens drew every day, and ranged between Rs 3,000 and Rs 6,000 a year, the official said. The agreement, renewed annually or biannually, allowed Bhutanese farmers to enter the “adjacent Indian territory” to “graze cattle, collect fodder” and forage for “wood and thatches during the day time”.
That pact will come to an end when work under Sajal Dhara, which started on May 28, is completed. District public health engineering (PHE) sources said the pumps would supply 8,000 to 12,000 litres of water an hour to each of the eight gardens: Carron, Changmari, Gatiya, Bandapani, Chamurchi, Lankapara, Jiti and Makrapara.
“We are looking forward to getting our own water. Now, when supply is disrupted, we have to walk up to a kilometre to fetch fresh water. Also, the water often becomes muddy during the rains and we have to strain it,” said Sabitri Baraik, a worker at Carron.
The Centre is funding 90 per cent of the deep tube-well project, with the gardens providing the rest of the money. Each garden will need to pay between Rs 9 lakh and Rs 20 lakh, the assistant engineer of the Jalpaiguri PHE department, Aniruddha Bhattacharya, said. Carron will need to cough up Rs 20 lakh.
“We had to bore more than 300 feet deep to get water in Carron tea estate,” said Prabhas Barman, a supervisor with the private company boring the tube wells.
Under the agreement with Thimphu, renewed the last time on November 30, 2008, the gardens were to build pucca water channels and water locking gates to prevent soil erosion in Bhutan. They had to “build strong bridges/covers over the Channel at path/passage for safe crossing” of humans and live stock and “prevent pollution of the water supply”.
In Calcutta, Bhutan consul-general Tsering Wangda welcomed the development. “This is a very good development that water has been found on the Indian side. Therefore, as far as water resources are concerned, both sides will be independent of each other. Moreover, the Bhutanese people will have more water to use,” Wangda said.
He said Bhutan’s decision to let these gardens use its water was based on the “mutual trust and friendship the two countries enjoyed”.