Revisiting traditional irrigation system may solve Bihar's agricultural problems

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Patna, Feb.2 (ANI): Bihar once used to be the famed kingdom of Magadh. The agriculture yields were primarily good because of the prevalent traditional system of irrigation that contributed to Magadh's prosperity.

The present-day scenario, however, is dismal, as many places falling in Patna and Gaya region are facing shortage of water.

Bihar primarily has an agriculture-based economy and society. And, today it is facing a double whammy-a drought like situation and the specter of food shortage.

There could be an estimated shortage of more than 60% in rice production. The Kharif crop has been battered during the lack of rain this summer and all hopes were fixed on the Rabi crop towards the winter months to turn the tide in a sector which has been going steadily downhill.

But sadly one crop cycle, however promising it is touted as, does not naturally offset the damage of a precious cycle. On the contrary, there are some systemic, climatic factors which remain, factors which caused the failure of the preceding agricultural cycle.

Bihar is largely agricultural yet it is largely rain-fed agriculture. It has a fair amount of rain as compared to other States yet it has poor irrigational facilities in comparison to many others.

The ancestors used to harvest the rainwater, as it would both fulfill the immediate needs for drinking and irrigation. But, more importantly, it would conserve the level of groundwater literally for posterity; for future generations to reap the benefits.

What today are drought-hit districts, there existed a rich tradition of irrigation where water from rivers was fetched to fields through Paeen (small nullahs) and Aahar (a pond-like place where water is stored).

Paeen was used to water fields on both sides and Aahar was used to supply water to drought-hit lands. Between them was a perfect 'water-tight' system to ensure that irrigation facilities covered the sown fields.

In the modern context, however, consecutive State governments have either been ignorant or chosen to remain so, of the traditional irrigation systems devaluing its promise and denying the people its potential to bring prosperity and make agriculture yields turn their fortunes around.

In Bihar, where 75 per cent of its population lives on agriculture, only 50-60 per cent of land is covered by irrigation facilities. There is a heavy dependency on tube-wells, which in turn, are dependent on electricity, which is in short supply. There is also the high cost of diesel for running the tube-wells. It is a vicious circle which makes irrigation, nothing more than a pipe-dream for farmers.

According to the State Ground Water Directorate, Bihar, water-level has gone down from 30 to 70 feet in the northern districts comprising Patna, Bhabhua, Gaya, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Bhojpur, Nalanda, Nevada, Arval, Baksar, Rohtas, Munger and Bhagalpur among 17 districts.

Ironically the agricultural produce from this region plays a vital role in Bihar economy. Now the agricultural community has to trudge for miles to fetch water. This is symptomatic of a larger problem to which the community is getting aware and that is the non-profitable character that modern-day farming has acquired.

Clearly a state, which primarily depends upon agriculture, cannot do without its traditional irrigation resources, particularly laid out with meticulousness and sound ecological sense as has existed for centuries in Bihar. Yet all this leaves the authorities unmoved. ven the threat of an inadequate Rabi crop, the spectre of food shortage does not seem to be enough of a wake-up call for the Government.

The term of the present government of Nitish Kumar is coming to an end. It may be well worth it to recall that it had announced its agenda to improve and protect the traditional irrigation systems for developing and strengthening Bihar's agricultural base.

More specifically, it had mooted the idea of cleaning the traditional irrigation systems through National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) but seems to have failed in implementation. Instead, the government's emphasis has been limited to roads, dams, plantations, all important no doubt but in the process, irrigation both traditional or modern has been given the short shrift.

There is also another problem. Many people have converted the traditional irrigation sources into fields. How will these people be tackled and by whom? It seems there is no clear-cut agenda or policy for irrigation, traditional or modern so such errant activities cannot invite corrective action simply because the norm has not been defined, one of the Charkha Features stated.

During years of good rain, Bihar is likened to a Paddy Bowl. Sadly, over the years this paddy bowl has developed cracks. It has happened through a blind refusal to see and take the necessary steps that the region is in dire need of.

Before it becomes endemic, the present and future governments need to take corrective action to restore to this land, its prosperity and plenty. By Rajeev Kumar(ANI)

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