New Delhi: Even as heavy rainfall has led to extensive flooding, landslide and displacement of lakhs of people in most of India’s northeastern states, Manipur has been facing a drought-like situation for the last two months, leading farmers’ organisations to come to the street, demanding that the government declare the state drought-hit.
The state, largely dependent on agriculture, has been facing drought-like situation for the last decade due to an increased shortfall of rainfall each passing year. In 2009, the Centre had declared Manipur a drought-hit state.
In 2012 too, a drought-like situation led the then Congress government to resort to various measures. The capital city, Imphal, along with other parts, often face a drinking water shortage and supply by the civic authorities.
This year too, since June, rainwater deficit of 41-50% and lack of adequate irrigation facilities to help rainwater reach the fields from the existing water bodies have aggravated the situation.
At the end of June, a team of the North East Dialogue Forum conducted a survey in three districts of the state – Thoubal, Chandel and Churachandpur – where farmers expressed anger at the government’s inability to respond to the situation by providing adequate number of water pumps to them, thus delaying the sowing of Kharif crop, mainly rice. They spoke about the fear of reaping fewer yields due to delay in sowing the seeds and thereby affecting their income.
A local news report said, “The villages where the NEDF teams visited today (June 24) lacks water pumping facilities as there is no River Lift Irrigation (RIL) Schemes in the area, according to the locals. Locals at three villages also complained that they have to buy potable water at Rs 30 per 100 litre from private water tankers.”
On July 1, the state government took stock of the situation at a “high level meeting” attended by chief minister N. Biren Singh. Local news reports said the chief minister directed various departments to provide the water pumps available with them and bear the cost of their running, make the existing 157 RIL schemes functional besides stating that “100 more pumps will be procured by the government to deal with the situation”.
However, this past July 7, farmers resorted to a sit-in dharna in front of the state secretariat with placards and later tried to storm it, leading the police to resort to action. Though the state government had begun supplying water pumps in some areas by then, the farmers felt it was not adequate and needed a better response.
Thongjam Ajit, the secretary of Irabot Foundation Manipur, which protested alongside the farmers, told local media that the farmers of the state “have been demanding implementation of a proper water policy” and highlighted that “in 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself had written to the chief secretary, government of Manipur, to take action for implementation of the same. However, there has been no positive response from the government’s side”.
Unable to grapple with the worsening situation, on July 20, the state cabinet decided to urge the central government to declare Manipur a drought-hit state. State education minister and government spokesperson Th. Radheshyam briefed the local media after the meeting, stating that though the state’s paddy fields had received 50 per cent less rainfall and it would surely affect the yield, the state government couldn’t declare it as drought-hit as it had not fulfilled four parameters required for such an announcement.
He said the cabinet had decided to engage “experts to assess the remaining technical parameters so as to urge the Centre to declare Manipur as drought-hit.”
“Once announced, funds would be sanctioned to compensate those affected by the drought,” he said.
With the Centre yet to take a decision on the matter, the local unit of the Communist Party of India (CPI) held a rally in Imphal on July 23, demanding that action be taken immediately. The participants, chanting slogans, marched towards the chief minister’s bungalow. The police stopped the protesters and allowed a few of them to submit a memorandum to the chief minister’s office.