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  • Malkiat Singh Duhra

Ground Water Levels Have Reached a Dangerous Level in Punjab

Groundwater water has been extensively used for irrigation, industries and urban area in Punjab and water tables are falling. Punjab occupies only 1.57 percent geographical area of India. It contributes more than 50 percent grain in the central grain pool. More than 83 percent of land in Punjab is under agriculture as compared to 40 percent of the national average. The cropping pattern of wheat and paddy rotation has led to a large increase in irrigation water demand. Excessive groundwater pumping has depleted fresh groundwater resources of the state at alarming rate in most parts of the state. In major parts of the state, groundwater levels are in the range of 10 to 40 meters deep. The Central Groundwater Board concluded in its 2017 report that at current rates of extraction, Punjab’s groundwater resources may be exhausted in 20-25 years. The rampant extraction of water is one of the consequences of the Green Revolution which led to Punjab shifting from diversified cropping system of wheat, maize, pulses, groundnut and vegetables to monoculture farming of wheat and paddy.

Groundwater level in Punjab has fallen to dangerous levels and the main reason for this is the planting of paddy. We went on increasing the paddy area to solve food problems but did not increase area under canal irrigation. Some people blame this on farmers self indulgence for monetary gains. While paddy is the fundamental cause of this crisis, farmers are the victims of the problem, not offenders. The area under paddy cultivation in the state has grown roughly tenfold in the last 50 years. The fulfillment of the agricultural productivity objective of the “ Green Revolution “ is responsible for the continuous use of groundwater and its rapid decline. Wheat and paddy are sown in about 75 percent area in Punjab. High yielding varieties of paddy have a higher irrigation requirement than other crops. More than 3.35 cubic meters of water are needed to grow one kilogram of rice according to India’s Commission for Agricultural costs and prices. Geographically, Punjab is divided into 138 administrative blocks; only 22 of these blocks have sufficient groundwater supplies, according to the 2017 assessment by the India’s Central Groundwater Board. The rest are at critical levels.

In the Second Five Years Plan, the Central Government shifted the focus from agriculture to industrial sector, leading to a severe shortage of food grains in the country, and the country had to resort to importing food grains under PL480 . The Central Government decided to adopt the new agricultural technology to solve the problem of food grains shortage. This was a package of high yield varieties seeds, assured irrigation, chemical fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, pesticides and other synthetic chemicals, machinery and other modern agricultural practices. The essence of this new agricultural technology for Green Revolution is commercial in nature, that is production for profit. We ignored the health of soil and depleted water resources.

After taking the decision to adopt the Green Revolution, the Central Government decided to introduce it as a matter of high priority. The Central Government selected Punjab state and some adjoining areas of UP and Rajasthan as the farmers of this area are hard working and courageous. The Green Revolution increased the productivity and production of wheat and paddy to such an extent that the Central Government no longer needed to import food grains. The Central Government, keeping in view Punjab’s remarkable track record and the needs of the central pool of food grains, imposed the paddy crop on the farmers of Punjab since 1973 through a relatively higher MSP and granted of procurement of paddy and wheat by the Central Government. Prior to the adoption of the new agricultural technology for Green Revolution in Punjab, irrigation was generally done through canals and wells and there was no problem with the groundwater level. The number of tube wells in Punjab in 1961 was only 7445 and has risen to around 14 lack in 2021 mainly due to the adoption Green Revolution.

Initially, irrigation work was done with mono-block motors, but due to the continuous fall in the groundwater the farmers were forced to bring in submersible motors, which is one of the reasons for their increased debt. People putting the sole blame on the farmers seem completely unaware of agricultural practices and are blindly urging the farmers to stop planting paddy. It is imperative that the Central Government fixes remunerative prices instead of MSPs on agricultural commodities and ensure their procurement, so that crops alternative to paddy can be grown according to the state’s agro-climatic conditions. The canal irrigation system should be streamlined and the water in the rivers of Punjab distributed in accordance with the Riparian Principle. Drip irrigation should be promoted where it is possible and economical. At the same time, farmers and all other people need to realize that wasting a single drop of water is a huge and unforgivable crime. Necessary steps should be taken to make dams to store and use rain and flood water.

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