Migrants toil to revive ‘dead’ Gharar in village in UP’s Banda district
The workers claim they started the cleaning work on their own to save their village from flooding during the monsoon.
Unfazed by lack of work after returning to their native village Bhanwarpur in Uttar Pradesh’s Banda district, a group of migrants decided to bring a dead river, the Gharar, back to life.
Toiling from dawn to dusk for the last three weeks, the group of men and women in Bhanwarpur, about 200 km south of Kanpur, have been cleaning the riverbed and digging new passages so that flood water can drain easily during the monsoon, the only season during which the Gharar looks like a river.
They have already managed to clear nearly two kilometres along the course. Another three kilometres remain, the workers say.
The small river originates in Panna in Madhya Pradesh. It passes through Bhanwarpur before merging in the Baage river in Banda. The mighty Ken river is nearby. Its flow during the monsoon temporarily fills the Gharar, which at other times resembles a nullah at some places, said Sajeevan, a migrant.
Like him, about 200 others returned to the village, braving hardships after the Covid-19 lockdown. They claim they initially went to the village headman Ram Naresh Badri seeking work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (MGNREGS) but were told that there was no work for them in the village or nearby.
Everyone was dejected, except seven men who hit upon a plan and got 60 workers involved in the project to revive the river.
“It was better than sitting idle in our houses doing nothing. Everyone is contributing to revive this river. Our work will save us from flooding in monsoon and give us water to irrigate our fields. So, what if we are not getting money? We are certainly doing something worthwhile,” said Sajeevan, who has completed the 14-day mandatory quarantine after returning home.
The project is important as the lack of proper drainage causes floods every monsoon, damaging houses and inundating fields in Bhanwarpur which has a population of 1,500.
Recalling the village headman’s refusal to give, Rama Bai, a villager, said, “At this point, some men suggested why not volunteer to revive Gharar, which can be turned into the village’s lifeline. Some people did not agree but this group was persistent. After a meeting, the majority came on board. The rest joined later.”
The work begins early in the morning and goes on till 5pm and beyond. The women and men sing bhajans in tandem, boosting one another’s morale. They take a two-hour lunch break between 1 pm and 3 pm. The women cook the food and all of them eat together.
“We have cleaned about two kilometres and think it will take another three weeks to complete the remaining three kilometres,” said Asha Devi, another worker.
Badri denied that the workers asked him for work. “They are doing this (river revival work) on their own,” he says.
District magistrate Banda Amit Bansal said no one in the district has been denied employment under the MGNREGS. About nine projects are going on under MGNREGS around Bhanwarpur but the Gharar river is not included because it is filled with water at the moment. Apart from them the administration has undertaken work under MGNREGS on 54 water bodies in the district. “The migrants are being work under MGREGS in all the 459 village panchayat, no one has been denied work,” he said.
As for Bhanwarpur and the allegation that the village headman denied work to the migrants, he said it will be looked into.