A few months ago, the Manipur government called for restoration of all agricultural lands which have been diverted for non-agricultural activities without the approval of competent authority. However, the definition of agricultural lands is still tricky and vague.
We understand that Chief Minister N Biren Singh is intent upon saving forests and agricultural land so as to boost agricultural produce in the path towards self-sufficiency and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atmanirbhar mantra.
In fact, it is seen that Biren is making efforts to revitalise the Fisheries department and pushing officials for increasing fish production in the state.
It may be mentioned that the annual fish requirement of the state is about 56,000 MT. But, only about 33,000 MT is being produced by the fish farmers annually.
Hence, 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 the deficit.
We would like to bring to the chief minister's notice that similar push is much needed in poultry products and piggery, including the production of feeds. 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 with India in 1949, the state had a food surplus.
Now, the state has become more and more dependent on rice, wheat, fish and poultry products brought 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.
Wetlands Act, 2014 has been invoked in the present survey.
It is well known that revenue officials has been circumventing the law time and again, though there were restrictions earlier also on conversion of agricultural land as homestead land or for non-agricultural activities.
No doubt, the state has 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 non-agricultural activities.
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.
Due action must be taken against those responsible for conversion of agricultural land for non-agriculture purposes like industrial or commercial activities.
However, 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.’
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.
Hence, we would like to reiterate that restricting conservation of agricultural land for paddy alone is against the spirit of promoting growth in agriculture sector and self-sufficiency.