JANAKPUR, Oct 16: The government has agreed in principle to declare a vast area of land in the Tarai, which is deprived of irrigation facilities, as a drought-hit area.
During a meeting on Tuesday with representatives of Madhesi National Liberation Front (MNLF), a sister organization of the ruling UCPN (Maoist), Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai agreed to declare parts of districts between Koshi and Narayani rivers, where farmers have to rely on rain water for paddy farming, as drought-hit areas. There are altogether 10 districts between Koshi and Narayani rivers.
“The prime minister was always positive about declaring drought-hit areas in the Tarai. He expressed his commitment to do so even during Tuesday´s meeting with us,” said Ramrijhan Yadav, general secretary of MNLF. Yadav, who is also Bhattarai´s press advisor, added, “The prime minister will now instruct the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Irrigation to identify drought-hit areas.”
MNLF, which has been on a warpath over the last few months, has demanded that the government declare all those parts of 10 Tarai districts between Koshi and Narayani rivers, where farmers are deprived of water from irrigation projects, as drought-hit areas. It is estimated that just 30 per cent of land in these districts have irrigation facility.
Farmers in the Tarai, led by MNLF, had been staging sit-ins in front of District Administration Offices (DAOs) of 22 districts across the Tarai belt since last Sunday. According to Ram Kumar Sharma, president of MNLF, the sit-ins have now been called off following PM Bhattarai´s assurance.
Once the drought-hit areas are declared, farmers in drought-affected villages will be entitled to relief packages. “The government will decide what can be given to the drought-hit farmers," said Sharma.
Apart from declaration of drought-hit areas, PM Bhattarai has also expressed his commitment to address nine other demands raised by the front, according to Sharma. The demands that PM Bhattarai assured to address include initiating a process for listing Janaki temple in Janakpur as a world heritage site and providing compensation to the victims of Janakpur blast that claimed five lives in May, among others.
“We had floated 31 demands, 10 of which have already been fulfilled,” Sharma said. “PM Bhattarai has assured that he will help address other 21 demands in the new constitution and budget programs.”