KARACHI/ QAMBER-SHAHDADKOT: There are few men as dedicated as Arbab Bhangar, popularly known as Meeko, who has been supplying irrigation water to farmers voluntarily for the past 30 years - all with the hope of securing a government job one day.
Wearing a knee-length dhoti, Meeko rides his bicycle from one canal to another to make sure the farmers have enough water for their crops. Meeko, 50, who belongs to Bhangar Aacha village of Kamber Shahdadkot district, always wanted to be a beldar, a helper at the irrigation department who checks the flow of irrigation water in watercourses and canals and strengthens their embankments.
“When I was child, I saw that the beldar was very influential as farmers used to plead to him to release water for their crops,” he said. “I wanted to become a beldar so I started working at a very tender age.”
Initially, Meeko met the chief engineer of Larkana and requested him for a job. “He suggested that I start working as a volunteer till the government announces a vacant post,” he recalled. “The farmers try to help me financially at the time of the harvest but it is not sufficient.”
During the Khareef season, especially between June and August, Meeko spends 24 hours on the embankments of the canals to prevent any breach. “All irrigation officials posted at district headquarters know this very well and they even call me in case of an emergency,” he said, regretfully adding that they turn him down whenever he asks for a job. “I am the only beldar in the area who they see working in the field. Sometimes, I feel I have spent my whole life being useless.”
The farmers receiving Meeko’s services value him. “Meeko travels miles with water to supply it from the main canals to the water courses, which is a really hectic process,” said Rafique Channa, one of the growers. Channa pays Meeko around 80 kilogrammes of his harvest every year but feels like the government should help him more.
According to Qurab Khoso, who grows sugarcane, Meeko saved his crop from flooding in 2010 by informing him about the breach. “It was midnight when Meeko came shouting to my door,” Khoso recalled. “If he had not informed me, I would had lost my crop spread over 30 acres.”
Though Meeko has almost reached the official retirement age, he still dreams of a government job. “I have earned honour in my area and people respect me but I need a job to run my house.”
With all the applications he has submitted to the higher authorities mentioning his past contributions as a volunteer safely filed, Meeko has knocked the doors of chief engineers and irrigation secretaries but all in vain. “When chief minister Qaim Ali Shah visited Benazir Bhutto’s mazaar in 2008, I handed him my application but nothing happened.”
Tariq Ahmed, an engineer at the irrigation department in Qamber-Shahdadkot district, agrees Meeko is a valuable asset. “When I took charge about two years ago, I found him to be a very hard worker,” he recalled. “Later, I appointed him on a contract and paid him for six months but our senior officer objected.”
For their part, the irrigation department said there are certain rules for government jobs that Meeko doesn’t qualify. “We can consider his case for honorarium or some sort of compensation if officials from the relevant district send us a proposal,” he added.
After spending 30 years in the fields, Meeko’s only dream now is to ensure his son achieves what he failed to. “Whether or not I get a government job, I will try my best to get my son appointed as an engineer in the irrigation department.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2013.