SITAPUR: Taking a cue from their counterparts in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, who participated in neck-deep ‘Jal Satyagraha’ in September 2012 demanding the lowering of the water level in the Omkareshwar dam, as many as 1,500 residents of Kashipur village and some others from the neighbouring Kamharia and Barhinpurwa villages are standing knee-deep in the rising waters of Sharda.While the ‘Jal Satyagrahis’ in Khandwa were able to push the Madhya Pradesh government to mend its policies, the fate of the ‘Jal Satyagrahis’ of Sitapur still hangs in balance.The fury of the river has taken away everything from the villagers, their shelter, livelihood and has not even spared their near and dear ones, who are either forced to commit suicide or are succumbing to stress and heart attack. The hapless victims now hope that their ‘Jal Satyagraha’ would move the state government from inertia and act before it’s too late.”We want some immediate action or the river would wash out other villagers by July,” said Rachna Singh, a social worker. The two-day ‘Jal Satyagrah’ that began at Kashipur village of Sitapur district on Monday, is an effort to attract the government’s attention to one of the biggest natural disasters hovering over the state. Going by the official records, there have been at least 12 suicides in the region since 2010-11. Villages like Kashipur, Senapur and Mallapur have been completely wiped out by the river. The thatched and cramped shanties flanking the narrow village road bear testimony to the plight of 800-odd wretched families who are forced to live on the roads. Surprisingly, district administration has no record of the land lost to the river. “We asked government about the assessment of the land lost, and we were told that there is none,” said activist Arundhati Dhuru. The government functionaries work on the logic that the river which rises also recedes, and in that case there is no loss of land, she said. However, this does not lessen the plight of villagers whose land got eroded in the flood. “It does not take more than a few minutes before everything to be washed away,” said Mathura Prasad, a village school teacher.Reacting to the development, the state government said that the issue will be sorted out in a week. “If one area is marooned we can’t help, as project is generally sanctioned for a cluster of villages only,” said principal secretary, irrigation, Deepak Singhal. The official also said that DM is stationing at the place of the agitation and has met villagers. Even Cabinet minister Shivpal Yadav has been informed about the development. “We have also told engineer-in-chief to look into the issue,” said the official. However, what is baffling is government’s denial on any suicides taking place in the area because of the erosion due to river. Secondly, the government has to go as per the parameters laid down by the GoI in flood control measures. “We cannot have our own ways of dealing with the issue. Rivers keeps cutting here and there, and it’s a problem all over the state,” said Singhal.Twenty-year-old Vikas, a native of Kashipur has a big responsibility to bear. More than looking after his six younger siblings and the widowed mother, he has to take forward the people’s movement against government apathy started by his father Sudhakar Mishra. On the first day of ‘Jal Satyagraha’, Vikas and his mother, Mayadevi were the front-runners. “My father was hale and hearty till we lost our 80 bigha land to Sharda in July-August 2012. My father couldn’t bear the loss, and he died a few months after. We now have a small land holding to make living,” he said.What came as compensation was not even few words of concern.Instead of taking up the people’s cause, the district administration in the last three years has only shown decreasing trend of death and destruction. In 2010-11 as many as 2,074 houses (pucca, kuccha and huts) were washed away, while in 2011-12 and 2012-13; 1,040 houses and 296 houses respectively were destroyed by the river. The government has a well-defined package to mitigate the woes of the loss bearers. Rs 10,000 is given to those who lose their ‘pucca’ houses and Rs 2,000 to occupants of ‘kuccha’ houses and huts. “If officials assess a lesser loss, what they will have to hand out as compensation would also be a little amount,” said Rachna Singh.Sharda river has changed its course by about seven kilometres over several years. Several villages in four blocks of Sitapur – Reusa, Sakran, Rampur Mathura and Behata, have been wiped out. However, the Sitapur district administration hasn’t done the needful. “Villages like Sheikhupura, Kamharia and Badhainpurwa are on the verge of being eroded,” adds Mathura Prasad.The river erodes and eats into the land during monsoon when water from the Banbasa dam in Sitarganj and from rivers in Nepal is released to protect the dams there. The erosion due to Ghaghara, another river which also originates in Nepal and then joins Sharda not very far from here, affects Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Khiri, Sitapur, Barabanki, Bahraich, Basti and Ballia districts. Thousands of farmers living on the bank of these rivers are able to cultivate only one crop a year because of the flood. People are not able to take advantage of schemes like MNREGS also because of this reason and hence the farmers and labourers of this area face problem of food scarcity.” You go to any city, you will find a villager from Mallapur doing a menial job to stay afloat,” said Ram Naresh, whose father Shyamlal committed suicide in April 2011 after his land was eroded by Sharda.What poses to be a bigger disaster for the region is the river, which is fast changing its course towards Ajaypur Jheel. Hardly a few metres away from the lake, in case the river merges with it, several villages in the vicinity would sink. The villagers said there is an immediate requirement to control the course of the river through GEO bags.In April 2012, in his first inspection of a government project outside state capital, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav suspended six senior engineers of the state irrigation department for lack of proper flood control measures in Sharda barrage in Lakhimpur Khiri. Subsequently, a probe was ordered in the use of GEO bags for flood control and de-silting of the barrage. But, the sorry state of affairs continued, and the fuss died down as quickly as it rose. GEO bags are made using silk, and the bags retain sand even if they get wet.CM in his visit had ordered to use GEO bags to divert the course of the river. The district administration put earth filled cement bags to prevent the erosion over 1,300 metres of land along Asaipur, Badhainpurwa, Kamharia and Kashipur villages. The effort wasn’t adequate, as the river is still eroding the land. A proposal to take up five projects in the affected villages has been sent to the government from the local administration, but no sanction has been made. “It is only Rs 3.52 crore required for it,” said Arundhati Dhuru.