Please read my exclusive interview published in OrissaDiary.Com.
Hope you will find it interesting.
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Thanks and regards,
Reforms in water sector is biased towards favoring the rich: Ranjan Panda
|Friday, August 12, 2011|
Drought is quite recurrent in Odisha, mostly in the western part of it. Is the state traditionally a drought prone area? And will your magic formula of water harvesting solve the problem?
Ranjan Panda: Yes, drought is now the other name of western Odisha. But this was not the same just about a century ago. The communities here were better water planners and managers than the modern day engineers. This area supplied food relief to the Bengal famine victims. Records hold it that this was agriculturally one of the most prosperous regions of the erstwhile central provinces. However, this sustainable system of water harvesting and management started decaying during the British Raj and more so after we got independence. We bet for large dams, canal irrigation and everything else that involved concrete constructions. We ignored the people and the systems that had worked for centuries. Deprived of any support, the once prosperous agrarian communities had no options but to take to what the govt. officials and engineers prescribed them. Unfortunately, the external engineering based water management systems failed miserably and hence the area got converted to a drought prone region. The need is therefore to revert to the traditional decentralized systems of water harvesting that does not only talk about structures but systems of ecological integration. Things can only improve then. The engineers and govt. departments and even civil societies should come up with solutions that can fit into the already existing systems of the people so that they can own the process and be managers of their own water. This works. We have proved it. More so, this is no magic formula. We have just learned from the people and have given it back to them with some modern day inputs. This has helped them fight drought with success, yet again.
The state supplies cheap labour to other states. Is it because the agriculture has failed to meet the livelihood need of people? Shall water harvesting help on this front?
Ranjan Panda: Water harvesting alone is not the solution to all woes agriculture faces now. While agriculture has been neglected by successive governments, the process has got accelerated ever since the new economic reforms started in the early 90s. All support in the name of agriculture is benefiting the rich and industrialists; agriculture land is being indiscriminately being diverted for industries; and effective irrigation is shrinking. A cumulative result of this is reflected in the growing marginalization of the farming communities who are now gaining a new identity of ‘wage laborers’, be it in the roads, constructions, industries or even in urban areas. There is been a systematic conspiracy to weaken all support systems for the farmers and as a result, while the income of almost all other people in the country has grown by manifold (even hundreds and thousands of times), that of the farmers has actually declined drastically. As a run up to the Bali climate convention we carried out an exercise to build a people’s agenda for climate change. You would be surprised to note that most of the farmers said that they want the agriculture department to be shut down if the farmers’ plight is any concern of the govt. They said this in frustration as they feel while the agriculture department officials and ministers have grown richer, the farmers have turned paupers. This is a serious aspect and needs to be looked in with utmost urgency. Farmers have to fight against all evils like poverty, climate change and money lenders’ vagaries to grow crops for the nation and then fight on streets to fetch a ‘minimum’ support price. Even if they can get the minimum support price for some of the main products like paddy, that never comes in handy to buy a dignified life in an economy where everything including education, health care and drinking water have to be bought with cash, which keeps escalating by the day. They are being impoverished by design and are triply murdered in the way I have described above. Is it not an irony that the same farmer who grows food for us has to depend on the Rs.2 or Rs.3 kilo rice for quenching his hunger!! While water harvesting is an urgent need, there is plethora of issues to be addressed if we are serious about development of this agrarian state.
Finally, have you taken any initiative in persuading the government for accepting your plans of water management in the state policy; and with what results?
Ranjan Panda: Yes, if you have kept a track of what we have been doing, you can find that we have been trying to persuade the government to be people’s representatives and not that of corporates’. We have been constantly urging upon them to take the communities into confidence and give people their due right over the water and other natural resources. Its only when the people of the state are closely and constantly involved in water resources planning and management that we can ensure a better water future for ourselves. Corporate, at whose behest most of the water management planning is being done at the moment, are here only for profit and they will go away as soon as our resources are exhausted. This should be considered while taking decisions and devising management plans. We have recently objected to the inclusion of corporate representatives in proposed river basin organisations. According to us, they are at best consumers and hence can never be part of the decision making bodies in the name of stakeholder participation. The first and foremost stakeholder in water management of the state is its people. We have proposed inclusion of farmers, fisher folks, women, panchayat representatives in decision making bodies. The govt. officials and other technical bodies can provide the advisory and technical supports. Time the govt. takes serious note of it and changes its attitude and culture of alienating people from water and its management.
Ranjan K Panda