In a tall order, Imphal West DC Th Kirankumar on Tuesday directed all pattadars and encroachers in the district to remove infrastructures along the highways, roads and along the river banks by 3 pm of June 23. He also called for restoration of all agricultural lands which have been diverted for non-agricultural activities without approval from the competent authority to the original positions. Failure to comply with the order shall invite strict penal action, it stated.
The part about illegal structures and encroachment alongside the National Highways, state highways, inter-district roads and other roads besides river-banks is alright and long overdue. We also hope, the main roads and Leikai-Leiraks are also included in the ‘other roads’ category. However, the part about agricultural lands is still tricky and vague.
We understand that, the Chief Minister N Biren Singh is intent upon saving our forests and agricultural land so as to scale up agricultural produce in the path towards self-sufficiency and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atmanirbhar mantra. In fact, he is trying to revitalise the Fisheries department and pushing the officials hard for increasing fish production in the state. It may be mentioned that the annual fish requirement of the State is about 56,000 MT while only about 33,000 MT is being produced by the fish farmers annually.
As such, there is a production deficit of around 23,000 MT, and around Rs 4 crore is spent annually in importing fish from outside the state to make up this deficit. Like in fisheries, such a push is very much needed in poultry products and piggery including the production of feeds and we would like to bring it to the Chief Minister’s notice. Because, it is all about self-sufficiency in food and the food we eat. Although fish is a staple in the valley, it is mostly meat among the hill brethren. We must remember that, when Manipur merged into India in 1949, the state had a food surplus. Now, we have become more and more dependent on rice, wheat, fish and poultry products brought in from outside the state.
Recently, on the express orders of the chief minister state Revenue officials had been conducting a survey of all agricultural lands and the Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetlands Act, 2014 has been invoked in the present survey. We all know that revenue officials has been circumventing the law time and again, even though there were restrictions earlier also on conversion of agricultural land as homestead land or for non-agricultural activities.
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No doubt, the state had been losing agricultural land every year. Vast areas of agricultural land have been reclaimed and converted into service centres for various auto-dealers, brick-kilns, stone crusher units and many other industrial complexes besides a host of other activities not of agriculture. The stretches from Mantripukhri to Koirengei on Imphal Dimapur road, Takyel to New Keithelmanbi on Imphal Jiribam road and Ghari to Malom on the Airport road are all lost to agriculture.
One agrees that due action must be taken against those responsible for conversion of agricultural land for non-agriculture purposes like industrial or commercial activities. But, there is a need to properly define the terms ‘agricultural purpose’ and ‘non-agriculture purpose’ before resorting to penal action or any other action by revenue authorities. Yes, the very nomenclature of the Act and its provisions somehow seems to restrict any other agricultural activity other than paddy.
As we understand, agricultural land is typically land devoted to agriculture, the systematic and controlled rearing of livestock and production of crops to produce food for humans. The same spirit is also reflected in the preamble of the Act which says, ‘An Act to conserve the paddy land and wetland and to restrict the conversion or reclamation thereof in order to promote growth in the agricultural sector in the State of Manipur.’
As we understand, the term ‘agriculture sector’ comprises establishments primarily engaged in growing crops, raising animals, and harvesting fish. Such agricultural activities like fish and poultry farms including hatcheries and production of feed besides duck farms and piggeries are being taken up in what we call agricultural land. So we would like to once again reiterate that restricting conservation of agricultural land only for paddy is against the spirit of promoting growth in the agriculture sector and self-sufficiency.