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Punjab Budget: Not much for farming sector, say experts

Also, no budget has been allocated to support farmers going for crops ‘alternative’ to paddy’ like maize, basmati, kharif season pulses, etc.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Chandigarh |
June 28, 2022 9:01:15 am
Punjab Finance Minister Harpal Singh Cheema presents the state budget.

While the Punjab government has admitted that it is under obligation to save the state from ‘desertification’, it has not brought any concrete plans for ‘diversification’ – the need of the hour – in its budget presented on Monday except allocating meagre funds for some schemes that may save some groundwater and may lead to a little diversification.

Also, no budget has been allocated to support farmers going for crops ‘alternative’ to paddy’ like maize, basmati, kharif season pulses, etc. Because of over-exploitation of groundwater by growing paddy in massive areas, Punjab is heading towards desertification, and diversification from paddy to other alternative crops is the only solution to keep the state from it.

The Punjab budget has proposed Rs 11,560 crore (7.4% of the total budget) allocation, including Rs 6,947 crore as power subsidy, in the field of agriculture for 2022-23.

Experts and farmer leaders called it a ‘hopeless’ budget for the agriculture sector, especially when Punjab is primarily an agrarian state.

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This government is no different from the previous one which also did not do much for diversification.

In the previous government’s June 2017-18 budget, there was no mention of it; 2018-19 budget mentioned that 7,000 farmers will be supported for diversifying 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares), which was not even a drop in the ocean when the state has 11 lakh farmer households and over 30 lakh hectares (74 lakh acres) under rice cultivation; the 2020-21 budget allocation for diversification was just Rs 60.49 crore under National Horticulture Mission (NHM); while an allocation of only Rs 200 crore was made in the last budget.

In the name of saving groundwater, the government has mentioned in Monday’s budget already announced financial incentive of Rs 1,500 per acre to those farmers who adopt Direct Seeding of Rice (DSR) technique, which saves 15%-20% water, and it has earmarked Rs 450 crore for this purpose in the budget.

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“No doubt that DSR technique can save some groundwater, it cannot be adopted beyond a limit as all the soil in the state is not fit for DSR. Secondly, farmers are still reluctant to adopt it because of its results in the past, and lastly, it is not a diversification from paddy,” said farmer leader Jagmohan Singh of Bharti Kisan Union Dakaunda, adding that it is the worst budget for agriculture sector ever which had mentioned nothing about diversification when the state’s water is going down and down.

“Already the people, especially farmers of the state, are disappointed with the three months’ rule of the current government, and now this budget has only added to the farmers’ woes,” he said.

A senior officer in the Punjab agriculture department said that there is a strong need for curtailing over one million hectares of area under paddy crop along with implementing water-saving schemes to grow paddy to save the state from desertification.

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“It shows that the government is not ready to own responsibility to wean farmers away from paddy crop,” said Jagmohan, adding that in kharif season farmers can grow maize, cotton, basmati, kharif pulses, etc. as an alternative to paddy, which is taking a huge toll on groundwater.

Except for summer moong, which is not an alternative to the paddy crop as paddy is grown after summer moong harvesting, the government has not allocated any amount to procure crops (alternative to paddy) on the lines of summer moong.

“Budgetary allocations for the ‘alternative crops’ can attract farmers to grow crops other than paddy,” said a professor of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, requesting anonymity, adding that governments are required only to pay the gap between the MSP of the alternative crops and the available market price (if it is below the MSP) to the farmers.

While allocating funds for horticulture, the AAP government’s budget says that any talk of diversification is incomplete without horticulture. This government’s priority is vividly reflected in the proposal to double the allocation to the horticulture sector compared to last financial year. This means that the allocation to horticulture would be around Rs 722 crore, as in the last budget the government had set aside Rs 361 crore under horticulture.

Meanwhile, to keep a check on stubble burning practice, the budget says that the government would only undertake positive targeted actions for controlling it and allocated Rs 200 crore for it.

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Individual Quick Freezing (IQF) technology is ideal for preserving seasonal fruits and vegetables. IQF fruits and vegetables contain the same nutritional value after freezing as they have it in their fresh form. A new Quick Freezing Centre is proposed to be established at Verka village in Amritsar for which the budget proposed an initial outlay of Rs 7 crore for 2022-23.

Also, for an Integrated Hi-tech Vegetable Production-cum-Technology Dissemination Centre at Malsian (Jalandhar), Rs 11 crore has been proposed for starting it in this financial year.

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The government also allocated Rs 21 crore for conservation and productive use of run-off water, pond water, rainwater harvesting and augmentation of groundwater recharge. It also proposed comprehensive digitization of agriculture, including farmer profiles, digitization of their land records and online transfer of returns against their produce.

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First published on: 28-06-2022 at 09:01:15 am

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