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Punjab budget session: Amid desertification fear, Punjab House resolves to raise underground water level

Stating that water was available only in finite quantities, Finance Minister Manpreet Badal said a big myth was being propagated in the country that Punjab has surplus water."

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina | Chandigarh |
March 5, 2021 10:12:27 am
Punjab budget session: Amid desertification fear, Punjab House resolves to raise underground water levelSpeaker Rana K P Singh also announced the formation of a committee to look into ways and means of optimum utilisation of water resources and suggest steps to re-charge groundwater. (Express File)

The Punjab Vidhan Sabha Thursday passed a resolution unanimously asking the state government to take effective steps to raise the underground water level to save the state from turning into “barren land”.

Speaker Rana K P Singh also announced the formation of a committee to look into ways and means of optimum utilisation of water resources and suggest steps to re-charge groundwater.

The Speaker suggested that the principal secretary of the water resources department should assist the committee. The committee’s report will have to be submitted within three months. The Speaker made the suggestion after Congress MLA Kuldeep Singh Vaid suggested the same while participating in the debate on the deteriorating groundwater table in the state.

The passing of the resolution was preceded by a discussion on the water table of Punjab where all members, cutting across party lines, expressed their dismay at the fast-receding underground water levels and made several suggestions ranging from diversification of crops to various methods to conserve water while sowing paddy.

Only a handful of Congress MLAs were present in the House when the resolution was passed. Notable among the absentees was Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who is also the agriculture minister.

‘Earning more from Rajasthan land than Punjab’

Finance Minister Manpreet Badal said that if anyone knows how to practice agriculture, it is the farmer of Rajasthan who faces a shortage of water. “I earn more from my land in Rajasthan than Punjab,” he added.

Stating that water was available only in finite quantities, he added that a big myth was being propagated in the country that Punjab has surplus water. “Five hundred kilo water is required to grow one kg of paddy while 3,000 kilo water is required to grow one kg of wheat.

Punjab is not selling wheat and paddy but it is selling its water at the rate of one paise per litre,” said the minister.

Manpreet Badal also gave the example of Israel, which nationalised its water resources immediately after independence in 1948. “They took water out of politics and out of the hands of politicians,” he said.

The finance minister’s suggestion that the Centre should take over research activities related to agriculture was opposed by opposition MLAs who said that the Centre was already encroaching upon the powers of the state and there was no need to cede more power to it.

Manpreet Badal then clarified that he did not mean that research activities should be taken out of Punjab, but that the Centre should fund it because the states had no money for it.

‘What is cooperation department doing?’

An embarrassing situation developed during the debate when Congress MLA from Kapurthala Rana Gurjit Singh questioned Cooperation Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa over why the Cane Research Institute was shifted from Jalandhar to Gurdaspur.

He also argued that the cooperation department was doing little to increase the yield of the sugarcane crop and that initiatives taken by his sugar mill were producing more results on ground that the cooperation department of the state.

Arguing that there should be a discussion on why recharging of ground water was not taking place in Punjab, Rana Gurjit said that water in villages should be treated and used for agriculture. He also said that the Direct Seeding of Rice (DSR) technology should be used for paddy sowing to save water and electricity.

Diversification of crops needed, say MLAs

Cutting across party lines, MLAs who spoke on the resolution argued in favour of diversification of crops so as to break the wheat-paddy cycle.

SAD MLA Harinderpal Singh Chandumajra said the state had 105 blocks categorised as ‘dark zones’ due to depleting groundwater level and out of 138 blocks, 45 blocks were in critical condition.

“Maize and wheat used to be the principal crops of Punjab, but we took to paddy due to the needs of the country. Now diversification of crops is a must,’ he said. He criticised the Congress government for not taking advantage of the Atal Bhu Jal Yojana worth Rs 6,000 crore as the state government failed to make a presentation for staking a claim for funding.

AAP MLA Kulwant Singh Pandori highlighted the increasing number of cancer cases in the Malwa region and said that in Barnala district, there is a sharp spike in of Hepatitis C cases due to contaminated ground water.

Suspended AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu said he was surprised to find out that India imported canola oil from Canada and that the growing of canola crop is banned in India.

“It is also sad to note that an agriculture commission was formed by Congress government some time back but its report has not yet been placed before the House. Even if the government disagrees with the recommendations of the commission, at least the contents should be debated,” said Sandhu.

Commenting that the chief minister should have been present in the House during this important debate, Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema said that illegal mining has caused widespread damage to river beds. The state is in a crises but the state government has failed to formulate a agriculture policy till date,” he added.

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