Irrigation: A Curse for Manipur Farmers

By FrontierManipur | Published On 24th Jul, 2021, 11:25 GMT+0530

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Loktak Lift Irrigation (LLI) used to supply irrigation water to Imphal Main canal and Moirang Low-level canal by drawing water from Loktak Lake. The authority concerned had stopped the service for long and it has made the Project unable to supply irrigation water to the command areas. Villagers of Bishnupur district like Toubul, Khoijuman and Kwashiphai are the main producers of local vegetables sold in key markets of the state.

By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

       Manipur, one of the eight sisters of the northeastern region of India, is a hilly grit state situated at the lower tip of the sub-Himalayan range. Resembling most of the northern states of India, the economy of the state primarily depends on agriculture and allied activities. Though the total land under agriculture is only 6.74% of the total geographical area, it provides livelihoods of more than 52% of the total population of the state. Rice is the staple food crop, accounts for about 95% of the total foodgrains production and covers about 72% of the total cropped area of the state. Besides rice, other cereals such as maize, wheat etc. and pulses along with various kinds of fruits and vegetables are also grown in both valley and hilly regions.

    Irrigation is a very important non-physical input in agriculture as the crop production of an area largely depends on the existing irrigation facility. Crop production can be amplified by boosting the arable land, cropping intensity and yield per unit area of the cropped land. However, almost all of the agricultural fields in the state depends on monsoon rainfall as the irrigation facilities in Manipur are completely failed. Even though government departments like WRD (Water Resource Department) and Command Area Development Agency (CADA), constructed major and minor irrigation facilities, none of them has been successful in providing water to the fields. With dried rivers and canals, all of the River Lift Irrigation (RLIs) facilities are lying defunct. As agricultural fields in the state remain dry till date due to rainfall deficit and late arrival of the south-west monsoon, fear of a possible draught has descended among the public, especially the farmers. Normally, pre-monsoon arrives in the state by the last week of March. However, the rainfall deficit was significantly high this year and the whole state has been facing water scarcity since then.  Meanwhile, the meteorology department predicted the late arrival of south-west monsoon by at least one week. Even though the south-west monsoon arrived in the state recently, widespread rainfall is still a dream. On the other hand, decreasing crop yield coupled with wide cracks developing in all over the farmland of Manipur due to scanty rainfall are causing worry to the farmers who are hoping that the rain God soon smile on them to start sowing paddy seeds for the season.

Last year, the state faced flood at the start and a drought-like situation at the end resulting in reduced crop yield. It further sparked price hikes on local as well as imported rice. There is a constant fear of possible crop failure like last year among the farmers due to rainfall deficit. Generally, tilling the fields began in May last week. Seed sowing in June first week and transplantation by July first week. However, all these activities are being put on hold due to rainfall deficit. Considering the situation, there are high chances of delaying the agricultural activities till last July. Rainfall deficit this year and policy failure on the part of the government in improving rainwater harvesting and irrigation facilities are the main reason for the drought like situation in the state. Loktak Lift Irrigation (LLI) used to supply irrigation water to Imphal Main canal and Moirang Low-level canal by drawing water from Loktak lake. The authority concerned had stopped the service for long and it has made the Project unable to supply irrigation water to the command areas. Villagers of Bishnupur district like Toubul, Khoijuman and Kwashiphai are the main producers of local vegetables sold in key markets of the state like Bishnupur, Imphal, Moirang and Churachandpur. Each farmer invests a handsome amount of money to grow vegetables commonly consumed by the people of the state. Unfortunately, rainfall scarcity and total failure of ensuring irrigation facility has hampered the vegetable productions in the farms of these villages and due to lockdown of Covid pandemic, a little produce after hard toil also damaged considerably resulting in huge loss.

   Two parallel realities fast unfold in Manipur. The efficacy of several commissioned mega dams like Khuga dam, the Khoupumm dam and Singda dam and even 105 MW Loktak Project is increasingly exposed as evident by wide reporting on their non-functioning of their vital components of regular breach of canals and dams lying idle and defunct since decommissioning. Small scale farmers, fishing communities in and around Loktak wetlands will willfully testify the unfulfilled promises and the under-performance of 105MW Loktak HEP in Manipur. Amidst all such stories and realities of failures and under-performing mega-dams as exposed and highlighted by the media, what should be the lessons learnt? Is the government taking seriously of such realities and the message within? Why is there no investigation of such reportages to prove the veracity of such reportages and to effect necessary rectification measures? Are there no lessons learnt from such dams’ failures? One wonders, why the government of Manipur insist only on building more dams despite failures and non-performance of its previous mega-dams. Any responsible and people-oriented state, which believe in democratic process will be sensitive to people’s complaints of fraught and violations by communities harmed by such destructive development onslaught. One needs to ponder who benefits out of mega-dams, the contractors, the politicians, dam builders, equipment suppliers or is it the people? Why should the indigenous people of Manipur sacrifice their land, forest and other survival resources for such large-scale projects which only benefits the contractors, the politicians, the engineers and the suppliers? Dolaithabi Barrage seems to be another white elephant, fast emerging in Manipur’s Northern Landscape, as though similar failed structures, Khuga dam in the south, Khoupum dam in the west and Mapithel dam in the east are simply insufficient for Manipur. In fact, the Word “Irrigation” is a ” Curse” for the Manipuri Farmers!!

(Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh is Asst Prof JCRE Global College, Babupara, Imphal. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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