Where are the damned dams?

Undoubtedly water scarcity is a public issue and when any public issue becomes a chronic problem, it demands intervention of the State. As is the case, the State Cabinet has already recommended the Centre to declare Manipur as a drought-hit State. Every time water scarcity hits the State or paddy cultivation is threatened by scanty rainfall, we cannot help questioning the utility or effectiveness of all the big and small dams built in different parts of the State, much to the deterrence of environment and ecology. The State is still receiving rainfall albeit inadequate and water levels of all major rivers are fairly high. There is enough water to irrigate paddy fields only if there are enough functional irrigation facilities. So many River Lift Irrigation schemes were taken up in different parts of the State at the cost of huge public money but it was none other than the Agriculture Minister who openly admitted that maximum numbers of these RLI schemes are not functional. It turns out that RLI schemes were one convenient means of looting public money by contractors in cahoot with Government officials. And farmers are paying a heavy price for no fault of theirs. This is one common tragedy of all sham schemes. The Government needs to introspect and retrospect on the many costly dams which could not see the light of day after several decades as well as the dams already commissioned but have failed to deliver. The annual rainfall pattern may have changed a bit due to global climate change but the whole malady cannot be attributed to climate change alone. The observation that the issue of irrigation is always deliberated in every monsoon session of the State Assembly but no concrete action or plan is visible so far speaks volumes about the Government’s lack of commitment in agriculture sector.
Of course, there is the Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2014 but how effectively it is implemented can be gleaned from the uncontrolled growth of commercial and domestic structures over paddy lands. Protection of agricultural land is crucial to make the State self-reliant at least in terms of production of the State’s staple food which happens to be rice. But productive or successful cultivation of paddy requires ample volume of water. That is why, it is said that protection of agricultural land is not simply enough. Some other prerequisites are irrigation infrastructure and reliable water harvesting techniques. High yielding varieties, disease resistant crops and other inputs are important but they can be considered as secondary compared to irrigation facilities. For a vibrant agriculture sector, one cannot leave the practice of agriculture at the mercy of the vagaries of monsoon.  The outcry of some peasants that they cannot start paddy cultivation till date due to scarcity of water merits immediate attention of the Government as well as long term remedial measures. Protection of agricultural land without irrigation facilities is simply absurd. Is irrigation within or beyond the scope of the huge and costly dams constructed much to the deterrence of environment and ecology? So far, we have seen little irrigation of paddy fields with water diverted from dams. It appears that like RLI schemes, big dams are another avenue for earning huge and easy money for a handful of people without ever really serving its intended purposes. In short, the State has failed miserably on irrigation projects. When there is not enough water for paddy cultivation in the month of July, often billed as the wettest month in a year, something is seriously wrong. It demands a long term plan. The situation demands the State to formulate a visionary policy for scientific water harvesting and viable irrigation infrastructure rather than confining themselves within the domain of rhetoric. At the end, we cannot help asking, “Where are the damned dams?”