In Punjab 98% of the net area is irrigated and 72.5% of the net area is irrigated by groundwater, the highest in any part of the world. Even with five major flowering rivers, the net area irrigated by surface water is only 26.2%. The beneficiaries of the rich cropping intensity of 186%, are 65% of large farmers possessing more than 2 ha of land, 17% of small farmers possessing 1 to 2 ha and 19% marginal farmers with less than 1 ha. The area under rice, not a staple food crop of Punjab, increased from 6.87 per cent of gross cropped area in 1970 to 36 per cent in 2013, while wheat area, a staple crop is buoyant at 40 to 44 per cent of gross cropped area since 1970. West Bengal contributes to 13.26% of India’s rice production followed by Punjab contributing to 11.85% of rice production, Haryana 4%. The rice productivity in Punjab (39.74 quintals per ha), Haryana (30.71 quintals per ha) are also the most impressive. Rice crop has thus experienced the shift in area and production in both Punjab and Haryana.
In Punjab, from 1970 to 2013, rice area increased by 26 percent per year (from 0.23 ml ha to 2.82 ml ha), while wheat area increased by 3.56 percent per year (1.39 ml ha to 3.52 m1 ha). Currently 45% of net sown area is under wheat and 36% is under rice and totally 83% is under food grains. Punjab is contributing 35-40 per cent of rice and 40 to 75 per cent of wheat to the central pool at the social cost of unsustainable groundwater extraction. With a net dynamic ground water resource of 21.443 MCM, and net draft of 31.162 MCM, the overdraft is 9.719 MCM with a draft – recharge of 145 per cent. Punjab is “over- exploited” and reached unsustainable levels of groundwater use exclusively due to cultivation of water intensive rice crop. With the result, 80 percent of blocks are in Dark category despite Punjab possessing five flowing rivers. With 75 tractors per 1000 ha, 152 APMCs and entire rice production procured at Minimum Support Price (MSP) and 80% of wheat production procured at MSP in Punjab, the farmers enjoy the maximum patronage. Almost 100% of villages are linked with metalled roads. Thus, with 100 percent procurement, Punjab rice contributes 24%, wheat contributes 40% to central pool.
On the flip side, Punjab contributing towards green revolution also contributed significantly to groundwater overexploitation. This phenomenon has also spread to different States for different crops in due course. Accordingly, India’s green revolution is also referred to as India’s groundwater over exploitation revolution. And cultivation of rice in Punjab, Haryana since 1970, by pumping the precious groundwater resource has led to drastic overexploitation of the aquifers despite the presence of five rivers. This phenomenon has been documented by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre Scientific Visualization Studio using the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite from 2002 to 2008, where groundwater in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan has fallen by more than 88-million-acre feet. It is estimated that this volume is equivalent to three times the volume of water present in the Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the USA, 180 kms long, 162 meters deep, with 640 sq. kms of area holding 26.12-million-acre feet of water.
As Punjab farmers responded greatly to provision of MSP, this resulted in rice monoculture depleting the groundwater fast. Rice is the most inefficient crop cultivated with scarce pumped groundwater of 5000 litres of water to produce one kg of rice. As Agricultural Economist Prof SS Johl has been cautioning since decades, Punjab farmers need to realize the
relatively profitability of several horticulture crops compared with rice in relation to water applied. Punjab farmers are proximal to the Delhi metropolis which is well connected by all modes, can cultivate a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, flowers and benefit from the effective demand in Delhi markets. For instance, currently Delhi is getting bananas from far off Jalgaon in Maharashtra, Trivandrum in Kerala and Ananthapur in AP, incurring huge transport costs. Thus, banana can be initially cultivated in Punjab instead of rice. Later Punjab farmers may shift to other vegetables, fruits, flowers and perennial horticulture crops.
Punjab farmers can learn from experience of farmers from other States who cultivate high water low value crops – Capsicum, Knol Khol, Cabbage, Potato, Tomato, Rose, Ginger, Grapes as well as an array of diverse low water high value crops such as Mulberry, Ridge Gourd, Ash gourd, Marigold, Carrot, Chrysanthemum, Palak, Beans, Brinjal, Cucumber, Onion, Coriander, Red Gram Vegetable, Lab Kohl Bean, Chilli, Amaranthus, Dill. Farmers from Karnataka, using 1/4 th of the groundwater used by Punjab farmers are realizing higher gross returns of Rs 15 lakhs per farm, net returns of Rs 5 lakhs per farm, and net returns per acre of Rs 1 lakh, and net returns per capita of Rs 80000 per year. This shows that farmers in Punjab have greater scope and opportunity to enhance their net returns per farm, per acre as well as per farmer if they make a sincere attempt to diversify their crop pattern especially shifting from rice to horticulture crops.
The farmers of Punjab have a well assured market in proximity – Delhi metropolis well connected to market vegetables, fruits, flowers. Punjab farmers can even learn from the experience of banana farmers from Jalgaon in Maharashtra, Trivandrum in Kerala and Ananthapur who are sending tonnes of Banana to Delhi incurring huge transport costs. This advantage has been utilized by farmers of Kolar and Chitradurga districts in Karnataka who are cultivating vegetables flowers and fruits for supplying to Bangalore and Chennai. But who is to bell the cat?
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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