Imphal: The process of paddy farming began Thursday in the foothills of Koubru in Imphal West district of Manipur amid high security provided by jawans to the farmers hailing from both the warring communities in the restive state.
People were seen tilling land for sowing paddy in the coming days.
Jawans mainly from Army and Assam Rifles have been deployed in Kangpokpi and Western Imphal districts to protect the farmers during the sowing season, officials said.
The Kangpokpi and Western Imphal areas, known for their famous ‘black rice’, are now being guarded by these columns whose presence is aimed at ensuring a secure environment for Meitei and Kuki farmers engaged in paddy cultivation, protecting them from ethnic violence attacks, the officials added.
To prioritise the safety of farmers in troubled areas, the state government has downgraded the VIP security cover of a significant number of ministers, MLAs, politicians, and bureaucrats. Approximately 2,000 security personnel will be redirected to guard farmers involved in cultivation.
After chairing a meeting of the unified command Monday, Chief Minister N Biren Singh announced that additional security personnel would be deployed in Kangpokpi, Churachandpur, Imphal East and Imphal West, and Kakching districts to provide enhanced security for agricultural purposes.
The decision to involve central forces was made due to the adverse impact of ongoing ethnic violence on agriculture in the state. Experts warned that if the situation does not improve, food production in the northeastern state will be affected.
According to agriculture experts, farmers were unable to cultivate around 5,127 hectares of agricultural land, resulting in a loss of 15,437.23 metric tonnes as of June 28.
They said if the paddy cultivation is not possible during this monsoon season, the loss will further increase by the end of July.
Manipur has approximately 200,000 to 300,000 farmers cultivating paddy on 195,000 hectares of agricultural land.
Farmers are concerned that the shortage of locally grown ‘black rice’ may lead to price rises next year if farming is not carried out extensively across all areas by the end of this month.
While some farmers in the outlying areas of Imphal continue to tend to their fields despite the fear of being targeted by militants from nearby hills, many are refraining from farming during the peak season due to concerns for their safety.
The Meitei community resides in the valley, while the Kuki community resides in the hills. Both communities have experienced sharp ethnic divisions, leading to numerous violent incidents over the past two months.
Nearly 120 people have lost their lives, and over 3,000 have been injured since the outbreak of ethnic violence in the state. The violence began after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organized in the hill districts on May 3 to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
In an effort to restore peace in the northeastern state, Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited Manipur for four days last month and engaged with various sections of the population.
To regain normalcy and control the violence, approximately 40,000 central security personnel, in addition to the Manipur Police, have been deployed in the state.