Agriculture has always been the sole means of livelihood for the people of Arunachal Pradesh. Almost the entire population of the state has been engaged in agriculture due to the absence of industry and a dearth of income sources other than agriculture. Modern techniques of cultivation have also not been available to them. Jhum or shifting cultivation was most common, and is still practiced in many parts of the state. The scenario is now changing gradually.
In the erstwhile NEFA, during the early sixties, the Agriculture Department was one of the major departments to cater to different needs of the rural people. There was no agency to take up engineering works like the development of lands, fields, providing irrigation facilities, improved and mechanized farming, rural housing, providing drinking water in rural areas, etc. The Central Public Works Department was the only engineering agency for the construction of roads, bridges and buildings.
Keeping in view the engineering aspects of rural development and to initiate other allied engineering activities in the state, the 'Agri-Engineering' Wing was created along with the post of Regional Agriculture Engineer (RAE) under the Directorate of Agriculture and Community Development (DACD), Shillong, in 1965. The major objectives of this wing were to develop agricultural land and to provide irrigation facilities. The introduction of modern improved techniques of cultivation along with various required inputs was put on the priority list of the government. Consequently, a major boost in the productivity of the land was observed. Seeing this positive impact, people started practicing permanent cultivation for a better livelihood.
Irrigation facilities have always been considered among the major inputs for permanent cultivation and better productivity. The Government of Arunachal Pradesh, in line with the central government, gave its wholehearted attention to provide irrigation for the cultivators.
Various engineering applications such as power tillers, tractors, pump sets and other agricultural and earth-moving machinery began to be employed in the field for speedy and proper execution of schemes and projects. In addition, implementation of jhum-control projects, watershed management projects sponsored by the Government of India under centrally sponsored schemes and the North Eastern Council (NEC) were also taken up at a later stage by the Agri-Engineering Wing. In early 1973, three special investigation sub-divisions of the Rural Water Supply under the National Water Supply Programme were created under this wing. Further, in 1976, two rural engineering divisions, one each at Bomdila and Tezu and two mechanical sub-divisions, one each at Along and Tezu were also created and established. By this time, the activities of the Agri-Rural Engineering Division were vigorously promoted in each and every corner of the Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh. Developmental work was in full swing.
With the expansion of all-round engineering activities, the wing evolved into the Rural Engineering Service Centre in the Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh and ultimately in 1979, this Agri-Rural Engineering Wing was bifurcated from the composite Agriculture Department to form a full-fledged Rural Works Department. This department's main responsibility was irrigation along with other rural-based developmental activities such as soil and water conservation, rural water supply, inter-village link roads and rural energy.
In the earlier years, prior to Sixth Plan period, there was no separate department for irrigation activities; this was handled by the Agriculture Department at the block level. Since the creation of the Rural Works Department, all activities had been streamlined besides being modernized and augmented to meet the changing patterns of development in line with the ongoing developmental works in this sector throughout the world.
The Rural Works Department of Arunachal Pradesh had the following responsibilities:
Soil and water conservation
Rural water supply and sanitation
Rural link road
New and renewable sources of energy (NRSE) including integrated rural energy programme (IREP)
Watershed management projects under NEC
Centrally sponsored schemes like Accelerated Rural Piped Water Supply (ARPWS), pilot projects on soil and water conservation, watershed management works, etc.
Construction of buildings for its own establishment
Construction work for sister departments like (i) Fishery, (ii) Rural Development, (iii) Panchayati Raj, (iv) Agriculture, (v) District establishment, (vi) Health, (vii) Education, (viii) Animal Husbandry and Veterinary.
From the activities listed above, it is quite clear that Rural Works Department was playing a pivotal role for all-round development of Arunachal Pradesh, especially in the development of rural areas.
In 1981, Rural Works Department became the second major works department of the Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh headed by a Chief Engineer, under whom there were circles, divisions and sub-divisions all run by civil engineers, agricultural engineers and mechanical engineers. This department, which has been playing a pivotal role since its establishment, reached its zenith during the period from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties. This could be substantiated by the fact that the total work load of the department considering both Plan and non-Plan sector was approximately Rs 35 crore during the mid-eighties.
To manage this huge work load and to satisfy people's aspirations, it was essential to shape the department in a way that it could cater to the needs of the people and perform its responsibilities in a smooth manner. With this view in mind, the government sanctioned new divisions, sub-divisions and circles in the year 1987-88.
The department was trifurcated into Rural Works Department, Irrigation & Flood Control Department and Public Health Engineering Department during 1995 and a year later during 1996, an autonomous organization, the Arunachal Pradesh Energy Development Agency (APEDA), was formed by compiling the works under New and Renewable Sources of Energy (NRSE) and Integrated Rural Energy Programme (IREP), which were earlier taken up by the Rural Works Department. The activities of the Department had shrunk to the minimum, with activities under the following heads of development: