Orchardists raise alarm as sole livelihood under threat
KRALPORA: It is 12:30 pm by Mohammad Shafi Tantray’s watch; in a minute, a siren goes off in his orchard, breaking the silence of Kralpora village. The siren’s wail drowns out the chirping of birds in this Bandipora district hamlet, resounding through its dense, blossoming apple orchards and the lush green trees that surround them.
“It will be played another two times,” says Tantray, his growing unease clearly visible in his sun-beaten face, which sports a long white beard.
“After the third siren, they will release the water and, with that, the water level in my orchard will increase too,” a worried Tantray shares.
It’s not only Tantray who is worried, but along with him, 16 orchardists from the village are lamenting that their livelihood is at stake as water started appearing in their apple orchards soon after units of the Kishanganga power project were commissioned late last month.
The project has become a nightmare for the villages in its vicinity ever since it started its trial run. A day before the project’s first unit was commissioned on March 20, it developed seepage, and water entered Mantrigam village, adjacent to the powerhouse, triggering a fear of dislocation among the locals.
Though the top officials of the NHPC have promised that the lives of the villagers and their property were paramount to them and that they were taking immediate corrective measures, a new worry has emerged in a village situated below the powerhouse as jets of water are entering its orchards from below the ground. The orchardists are blaming the department for paying no heed to their pleas as the water continues to wreak havoc on the apple trees.
“It took us 25 years to develop this apple orchard, which is our sole livelihood. We have been benefiting from it with an annual turnover of Rs 7 lakh in profit. Now, all seems turned to ash,” said a 27-year-old youth named Fayaz, son of Mohammad Shafi.
The orchard, which has a total of 600 trees and is spread over 19 Kanals, is shared among his three uncles.
“Since March last month, it cost me around Rs 30,000 in spraying medicines and for other labour. The annual cost of its maintenance is Rs 60,000,” said Afzal, an uncle of Fayaz.
“Water to the trees in this season is slowly poisoning them to death,” he added.
“All these years, we never saw water rise into our agricultural fields and orchards. It is only after they started diverting water through the tunnels last month that water has appeared in our fields,” Tantray shared.
According to the Chief Horticulture Officer, Bandipora, Manzoor Ahmad, who has submitted a report to the Deputy Commissioner, Bandipora, “the water is in a running state and if it continues to remain so for just one month, the flowers will drop and with time the growth of the roots will also stop. This will ultimately result in the death of the trees within a few months, as the tree is not aquatic.”
According to the officials, they too are of the view that water is leaking from the project tunnels that divert water from the dam site in Gurez. “We blocked an irrigation canal running on above the orchard for two days to monitor if the water was entering into the orchards from the canal, but the water continued to emerge and it’s fast and running, so we can say that it was the tunnel which was leaking,” an administrative official of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department said. General Manager NHPC Amresh Kumar said that officials of the Horticulture Department have visited the spots together with NHPC officials. “Measures to control the seepage are under discussion,” he said.
The affected area, according to the villagers, is spread over more than 30, including Mohammad Shafi Tantray’s three Kanals, which have 90 apple trees, it excludes 100 Kanals of land used to grow vegetables.
Deputy commissioner Bandipora Khurshid Ahmad Sanai also said that “it’s the tunnel which has developed seepage.”
“The water which is leaking from it has taken a shape of a stream and is entering into the village. We have organised a committee of engineers and employees of horticulture department who are analysing the damages to the apple crop. The apprehensions of the orcharists has been taken note of and the damages would be compensated,” Sanai said.