Adopt New Irrigation Techniques To Improve Agriculture
Dr. K. Rakesh
(The writer is an environmentalist and freelancer journalist)
Irrigation is an important aspect for discussion in a hill state where 85% of the population residing in villages is dependent on horticulture and agriculture for livelihood. Since agriculture is rain fed in Himachal Pradesh, commercial farming could not be practiced here because of small sized farms and marginal agricultural society. Though horticulture is a major vocation here because of apple and other fruit like litchi, kinnoo, pomegranate orchards, the demand for filler crops like off season vegetables and fruits like strawberry is also great in the market. But rain fed agriculture remains the mainstay because of lack of robust irrigation infrastructure.
There were huge expectations from Jai Ram Thakur led BJP government in their first budget for experimentation and strengthening of irrigation system, but the new government could not move forward much in this direction. Agriculture Minister Dr. Ram Lal Markandey who himself belongs to a farmer family advocated in this direction during discussion on the budget in Vidhan Sabha. But the discussion was limited to mere criticism and allegations. There are numerous schemes of state irrigation and public health department (IPH) that are marred by corruption and a big chunk of budget is utilised on their maintenance. Instead of these heavy maintenance demanding canals, ‘stackable kuhls’ that can be made from recyclable plastic could be constructed. This strong and robust irrigation system can be laid only during days of use and later can be stacked in a panchayat department or local body governed room. These kuhls are easy to use and can be laid by only two adult members of a farming family.
Farmers practising commercial farming can also use leak proof rollable pipes, like used by fire brigade. The maintenance cost of this system is negligible. Pond fed farming can prove to be revolution in irrigation system in lower areas of Himachal Pradesh. Such ponds were present in villages in Una, Hamirpur, Solan and Kangra districts. But apathy of IPH department and uplifted and electric pump based irrigation projects ended this old age practice. However funds are available for renovation and reconstruction of these ponds in the centre sponsored schemes of Rural Development Ministry, Ministry of Water Resources besides MNREGA.
These ponds can be made leak proof with the help of clay based technologies. Due to tough geographical conditions of Himachal, water from majority of rivers and khadds cannot be used for irrigation purpose. However construction of check dams and spillways on the water of these khadds under watershed development programme could prove useful in this case. For cold deserts like Lahaul Spiti, Pangi and Kinnaur, icebanks and sprinklers could give new direction to irrigation system. In short, the hill state dependent on rain water needs a robust irrigation system.