Khandarani Dam of Jangalmahal

Bhulaveda gram panchayat is located in Binpur-II block in north-western Paschim Midnapur district, West Bengal, to the east of the Chhottanagpur plateau. The terrain is thickly forested and undulating, and the soil red and lateritic. The 36 per cent tribal population of Binpur-II block is dominated by santhals and mundas; there are also a few oraon villages and a sprinkling of the tribe lodhas. Due to the hilly terrain and the extensive sal forest the population density is low. The tribals live in small villages of 50 to 1,500 people. The forest has circumscribed the land available for cultivation, and the people depend on the monsoon for irrigation. A single rainfed kharif crop is grown on the terraced fields that cover the gentle slopes in these parts and even that suffers if the second spell of rain does not arrive on time in October-November. The tribals also rely on forest produce such as sal leaves, tendu leaves, etc, to make a living. The single crop low-yielding agricultural cycle makes these villages economically vulnerable. What is urgently needed is the creation of irrigation facilities that can render the land more productive.

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In 1995-96, the zilla parishad proposed to construct a small dam to arrest the flow of Khandarani Khal – a perennial stream – flowing through the Gadra valley. Although the average rainfall in the area is 1,744 mm, the sloping terrain means that very little water is available for irrigation. A small dam on the mainstream and check dams further down as well as field channels will enable the adjoining villages to irrigate their fields and increase crop production. The command area of the proposed scheme covers approximately 500 hectares. In 1996 the Midnapur zilla parishad initiated the construction of the dam, known locally as the Khandarani dam, across a rivulet in the forest area at Mouza Amlasole, J L No 83. The proposed dam had a concrete weir 46.20 m in length with an earthen dam on either side of the weir. The total length of the earthen dam was to be 220 m. According to forest department estimates, the seasonal submergence is not very large: it would vary between four hectares in the dry season and 12 hectares during the monsoon.

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The construction of the dam over the Khandarani khal was meant, in varying degrees, to solve the irrigation problems of 13 villages. Of the 5,803 families that reside in these villages, 155 belong to scheduled castes, 4,618 to scheduled tribes and 1,030 to others. Most of them would benefit from the assured irrigation, which will cover about 500 hectares. The gains of this project may be summarised as follows: If the project is completed, the local population of the forest protection committee (FPC) villages, comprising mainly schedule tribes who live below the poverty line will benefit immensely due to:

(a) assured irrigation both for the late kharif season and also for the proposed but currently non-existent, rabi crop;

(b) availability of water for domestic use;

(c) water for livestock;

(d) proposed pisciculture; and

(e) improvement of the moisture regime leading to rejuvenation of flora and fauna.

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The forest itself, if we were to consider the “forest” an independent entity, would gain in many ways through the creation of a reservoir. The permanent water-body will help recharge groundwater, thereby improving vegetation. Soil erosion will be checked, reducing surface run off. Finally, soil conservation measures – including contour bunding and land development – if taken up as envisaged will lead to the improvement of land quality and help increase groundwater level. As mentioned earlier, the scheme includes the creation of a number of small check dams downstream to recharge groundwater in the entire area.

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