Officials of the Barind Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA) were responsible for provoking two Santal farmers in Godagari upazila of Rajshahi into committing suicide, a delegation of development and rights organisations on Thursday said, citing post-mortem and police reports.
In a press briefing at the National Press Club, the rights groups demanded legal action against the BMDA officials and employees involved in irrigation mismanagement.
They also called for a judicial investigation of the case filed over the deaths.
Members of the Association for Land Reform and Development, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, Rural Underprivileged and Landless Farmers Organisation, Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, Paribartan, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, and the parliamentary caucus on indigenous affairs visited Rajshahi's Godagari area on 11-12 April on a fact-finding mission and collect information regarding the farmers' deaths.
Earlier on 23 March, Rabi Mardi, 32, a Santal community member of Nimghatu village in Godagari upazila, and his cousin Abhinath Mardi, 30, consumed poison right beside the deep tube well after the well operator Shakhawat Hossain refused to give them irrigation water despite multiple requests.
Abhinath died after reaching home at night while Rabi died on 25 March while undergoing treatment at Rajshahi Medical College and Hospital.
At the press event, the rights groups' delegation presented a set of recommendations.
Incidents of corruption and irregularities by BMDA officials are "quite well-known" and these officials have to be brought to book following proper investigation, they said.
Not only the pump operators but all those involved in the irrigation system, including the supervisors, have to be made accountable for their actions, they added.
Comparing BMDA with the East India Company of British colonial times, local lawmaker Omor Faruk Chowdhury told the delegation in a statement that BMDA has been exploiting farmers.
BMDA pump operators demonstrate arbitrary behaviour and partiality in water distribution. They do business and commit crime with water, he said.
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan said that every citizen in the country is harassed when trying to come by services from government offices. People are being insulted by officials and the suicide of the two farmers has shown the severity of the situation.
At the same time, the agriculture ministry has no relations with grassroots farmers, she said, adding that the offenders must be punished and the system too needs to be changed.
About the management of water, Rizwana Hasan said, "Using only groundwater for cultivation is disastrous and not a farsighted decision. The government should take steps to utilise surface water too. Transparency in water management is also necessary."