Defunct irrigation facilities and doubling farmers’ income
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious vision of doubling farmers’ income by 2022 sounds rather paradoxical if not bombastic, at least in Manipur. Doubling farmers’ income means expanding and promoting agricultural activities. It is only natural if one is expecting greater output, there should be better and greater input. With the exception of a few hectares here and there, vast expanse of paddy fields is left uncultivated after paddy is harvested till the next paddy season. Usually paddy cultivation season starts in May/June and the crop is harvested in October/November which means around six precious months are wasted without cultivating anything on these vast tracts of paddy fields but why. The answer is not far to seek. There is neither any reliable irrigation facility nor institutional support. Given this ugly reality, the vision of doubling farmers’ income by 2022 sounds quite unrealistic in Manipur. Where are the dams and other irrigation facilities built at the cost of thousands of crores over the decades? It was only last year that the State Cabinet declared Manipur as drought-hit just because the annual rainfall rate was a little lower than the normal rate. One can read very well in the Cabinet decision that the State’s irrigation facilities, dams, both major and minor and water conservation measures have failed miserably to deliver their intended purposes. Now the Irabot Foundation Manipur’s humble appeal to the legislators to constitute a fact finding committee to find out the operational status of River Lift Irrigation systems constructed at different parts of the State merits full attention of the Government in the backdrop of Minor Irrigation Department’s tall claim of having 250 RLIs in the State.
250 RLIs is a big asset for the State. But a big asset that is not functioning is a greater liability. 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. As claimed by Minor Irrigation Department, 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 cahoots with Government officials. And farmers are paying a heavy price for no fault of theirs. This is one common tragedy of all sham schemes. In the absence of proper irrigation facilities and with the paddy fields shrinking at an alarming rate, the State’s agricultural sector has been pushed to a very precarious situation. Of course, there is the Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2014 which prohibits reclamation of agricultural land for any non-agricultural purpose. But it seems nobody gives a damn about the Act and different construction works were/are done right under the nose of the Government on prime agricultural lands at different parts of the State. An Act may look quite comprehensive and impressive but the same beautifully crafted Act is nothing more than a white elephant if the executive (sic Government) which is responsible for implementing it is ill-equipped or bereft of the necessary dose of will. Sometime back, one MLA said at a public function that he and the people of his Assembly segment were unable to check construction activities on agricultural land because the constructors were backed by an incumbent Minister. No wonder, it is the Government itself and their men who many a great time violated and twisted laws and Acts to suit their own interests. When the agriculture sector is in such a precarious situation, doubling farmers’ income can best be a pipe dream, as of now.