…in the practice of destroying paddy fields when disrespecting water-sharing rules

Chencho Dema | Punakha

Age-old traditions aren’t set in stone. It has to change. This is the conversation among many farmers in Barp gewog, Punakha, following the incident where a group of men destroyed the bund, uprooted freshly-transplanted paddy and damaged the field of a fellow farmer accused of stealing water.

Many are calling for a change in the tradition of punishing farmers breaching the water-sharing arrangement practised for generations. The unwritten rule has it that those stealing irrigation water when it is not their turn are penalised by damaging the field (to not hold water) or uprooting transplanted paddy.

Two such cases were reported recently in the Barp gewog, one of which was resolved at the gewog level and the other was reported to the police. Although the matter was resolved, a police case could result in detention or a criminal case for deliberate mischief.

Even though it is not the greatest practice, mangmi of Barp gewog, Cheychey, stated that similar issues arise every year during paddy transplantation.

The mangmi thinks that this practice has to be abandoned in favour of new regulations that will prevent individuals from stealing water, ruining bunds, and uprooting paddy plantings. The elected leader said that it would be taken up with the people.

“These men would have been in detention for upholding tradition if the woman had not consented. There are some ignorant folks who require advocacy. However, now that more people are asking for alternatives, we must find some,” he said.

He further added that a meeting will be held soon to examine the situation and find a workable solution.  “Otherwise, many people will end themselves in jail especially during the paddy cultivation season.”

Meanwhile, other elected leaders echoed the need for change. The Kabjisa Gup who is also the DT Thrizin, Sonam Dorji, said that it is a shame that farmers had to resort to such acts.

“This is the failure of the elected LG members,” he said. “When such incidents arise, elected leaders should intervene. Such traditions once practised by our ancestors were acceptable in their times, but it is now illegal, and people can be detained for damaging others’ property,” he said.

He added that if a custom is useful and helpful to people, it should be preserved and practised. Otherwise, it should change, as in the case of demolishing bunds when someone steals water for cultivation.

Farmers Kuensel talked to agree that the long-standing custom of demolishing the bunds ought to be modified or abandoned.

A 25-year-old farmer from Dzomi gewog, Sangay Khandu, noted that while custom was once followed, it is no longer done. “We must coexist peacefully in our village.  Disagreements could be resolved through dialogue,” he said.

Another farmer from Changyuel said that the government should look at the seriousness of the water issue that rural residents are dealing with. “Such problems arise when there is shortage of water and farmers become desperate.”

Of the 11 gewogs in the dzongkhag, Dochu-Ritsa and Changyuel in Guma gewog, Tshokorna chiwog in Barp gewog, Jimthang and Tsekha chiwog in Dzomi gewog and Samdingkha in Toedwang Gewog are the most affected from water shortage.

Punakha has a total agriculture land of more than 8,373 acres of which about 7,457 are under cultivation.  About 911.3 acres of wetland are left fallow. The dzongkhag has 253.55 kilometers of irrigation channels.