Despite being a major paddy growing state, Punjab has seen a huge drop in area under the water-guzzling crop in the past two years. This is great news for the state as it is witnessing an alarming decline in its groundwater levels. However, even though it has saved around 7,000 billion litres of water through crop diversification and the Direct Seeding of Rice (DSR) technique this year, experts say it is far from sufficient, and only concerted efforts over the next decade to reach sustainability level groundwater.
According to agriculture department records, Punjab has already reduced its area under paddy by over 5 lakh hectares (12.35 lakh acres) since 2018. To grow 1 kg of paddy, 2,500 litres water is required.
In 2018, Punjab had seen an all-time high in area under paddy crop with 25.92 lakh hectares (64 lakh acres) — excluding area under Basmati of 5.11 lakh hectares (12.6 lakh acres), which is the less water consuming rice variety, and an alternative to paddy. Paddy area in 2019 had gone down to 22.91 lakh hectares (56.5 8 lakh acres), while area under Basmati in the same years had gone up to 6.29 lakh hectares (15.53 lakh acres).
In the current kharif season, rice sowing is in its last leg and around 21 lakh hectares (51.87 lakh acres) area has come under paddy. Basmati sowing is still going on and around 6.50 lakh hectares (16 lakh acres) has already been transplanted.
Between 2018 and 2020, Punjab managed to reduce the area under paddy by 5 lakh hectares (12.35 lakh acres). Most of this area has been brought under cotton, Basmati and maize, which is also sown simultaneously with paddy. While cotton got a chunk of this area, which increased from 2.68 lakh hectares (6.6 lakh acres) in 2018 to 5.01 lakh hectares (12.37 lakh acres) in 2020, maize area was increased from 1.09 lakh hectares in 2018 to 2.42 lakh hectares in 2020. Similarly, Basmati area was also increased from 5.11 lakh hectares in 2018 to 6.29 lakh hectares in 2019 and this year the target is to increase the same to 7 lakh hectares.
Punjab has seen a 46 per cent increase in cotton area followed by Basmati (28 per cent) and maize (26 per cent) in the past two years. While cotton is mainly grown in the canal-fed area in the Malwa belt’s eight districts, maize is mainly grown in the rain-fed Kandi belt. Majha is known for Basmati crop.
“In Punjab, the average yield of paddy and Basmati is around 6.5 tonnes and 4.2 tonnes per hectare respectively. To grow 1 kg of paddy and Basmati, around 2,500 litres and 2,619 litres water is required respectively,” said Principal Agronomist Dr Ajmer Singh Brar of Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, adding that while Basmati’s per kg water consumption is a little higher than that of paddy, its yield is quite less, due to which the crop needs around 30-33 per cent less water against paddy. He also said that cotton requires around 1/3rd of the water required by the paddy crop.
According to these figures, Punjab saved around 8,125 billion litres (8.1 Billion Cubic metres) of water by decreasing 5 lakh hectares’ paddy area. It saved another 1,950 billion litres by growing paddy using the DSR technique on 5 lakh hectares this year, as DSR uses around 25 per cent less water than the normal puddle transplanting technique. With this, the total water saved this year would come to around 10,075 billion litres.
Experts said that Basmati, area under which was increased by 1.50 lakh hectares in the past two years, would consume around 1,650 billion litres (per kg water consumption multiplied by per hectare average yield). Water consumption on the diverted cotton area would be around 1,262 billion litres. Scientists said that the third major kharif crop is maize, which also saw a big increase in area, but is mostly sown in the Kandi belt, which is a rain-fed area and hence does not consume much groundwater.
“When the water consumed by diversified crops (1,650+1,262 = 2,912 billion litres) is subtracted from the total water saved (10,075 billion litres) by reducing area under paddy and DSR, the figure will come to around 7,163 billion litres, which is how much water is ultimately saved,” said an expert in the agriculture department.
Dr Brar said that water consumption is calculated in centimetres.
“For Instance, cotton crop needs 55 cm water for irrigation against paddy, which needs 160 cm. If the state has been able to divert 2.33 lakh hectares area from under paddy to cotton in the past two years, it means that the state would have saved at least 2.45 BCM (billion cubic metre) or 2450 billion litres water with just one crop. In the same patter, the increased area under Basmati, which takes around 110 cm water for irrigation, is around 1.50 lakh hectares which means a saving of 0.75 BCM (750 billion litres),” said Dr Brar, adding that similarly water saved with the DSR technique too can be calculated.
Another Expert from PAU said that nearly 2.0 BCM (2,000 billion litres) saving will take place with the DSR, which takes around 25 per cent less water than transplanted paddy. The area diverted under maize (1.33 lakh hectares) will also save around 1.9 to 2.0 BCM (1,900 to 2,000 billion litres) as 65 per cent area under the crop is in Kandi belt, which is mostly rain-fed.
Must be a continuous process: Experts
However, experts from the state hydrology department said such efforts must be a continuous process.
“If we go by these figures, majority area under paddy was decreased in the cotton belt, which mostly falls in the irrigated belt, and to achieve sustainability in groundwater, we need to decrease area under paddy mainly in the groundwater irrigated belt in central Punjab,” said Rajesh Vashisth, joint director, agriculture (hydrology). He added that the impact of this decreased area on the groundwater may happen by next year as analysis takes place after every three years.
In Punjab, 72 per cent area is irrigated through groundwater, 27 per cent cultivated area is irrigated through canal water and 1 per cent falls in the Kandi belt, which is mainly rain-fed.
“We have saved thousands of billions of litres of water by diverting paddy area, but we suggest that this area must be brought down to 12-13 lakh hectares against 20-21 lakh hectares currently to reach sustainability level in the groundwater,” said Punjab Agriculture Department Director Dr Sutantra Airi.
“Ever since I have joined as director, my main aim was to bring down the area under paddy. We brought it down by 5 lakh hectares in the past two years and are planning to bring it down by 5 lakh hectares more,” he said, adding that central districts of Punjab are the worst hit where the water table is going down by around half a metre each year. He said that as per the 2017 groundwater assessment report, of 138 blocks, 109 are under the dark zone, 2 blocks are critical, 5 are semi-critical and 22 are white safe.
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