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While the Punjab government has been making the right noises about saving ground water by diversifying area under water-intensive paddy crop, the state budget, which was presented on Friday, has little to show to match that talk.
The budget provisions read, “This year the government shall make special efforts to reduce the dependence on wheat-paddy cycle and diversify the cropping pattern. The objective is to assist 7,000 farmers and 10,000 acres cultivable area, to be brought under cultivation during 2018-19. The government shall be laying special emphasis on horticulture marketing of produce and food processing to ensure a sustainable success of this effort.”
While the state needs to bring the area under paddy down to almost 16-17 lakh hectares from almost 30 lakh hectares at present, it has only set a target of 4000 hectares (10,0000 acres) for this year.
Punjab Agriculture Department records show that state has been producing rice on around 30 lakhs hectares of area which includes around 25 lakh hectares of paddy (parmar rice) and five lakh hectares of Basmati rice. Further, Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) had already asked Punjab government to bring down the paddy area to 16-17 lakh hectares against the current 29-30 lakh hectares to save Punjab from dessert-like conditions in coming few decades.
“Now when such is the situation and huge area — 30 lakh hectares — is under the rice and around 18 lakh farmers (according to Punjab government survey) are there in state, supporting just 7,000 farmers and diversifying 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) comes to just 0.13 (point thirteen) per cent of total paddy area,” said an expert from Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) Ludhiana, who did wish to be identified, adding that the state needed to divert lakhs of hectares from paddy.
Even previous SAD-BJP government under its New Agricultural Policy for State 2013 had proposed to divert 12 lakh hectares from paddy to other crops, but had failed.
“Government needs no policy for diversification if it can ensure a market for low-water consuming crops and get good price for such crops. Farmers will themselves go for such crops without government’s efforts,” said Sardara Singh Johal, renowned economist, adding that fixing this or that area for diversification will not help as such experiments have failed in the past.
“If government provides good rate of Kharif maize, I will be more happy to opt that instead of paddy,” said farmer Navdeep Singh of Samrai village of Gurdaspur, adding that government should stop making such budgetary provisions as it will not save Punjab’s water.
Farmer Sukhwinder Singh from Kapurthala said that diverting 4,000 hectares was not even a drop in the ocean. “Give us a good rate for other crops and we will leave paddy and wheat,” he added.
“Instead of making these tiny efforts, government should have gone looking for a market for other alternative crops,” said another farmer, Jagtar Singh of Salimpur