As he presented the state budget for 2019-20 in the Punjab Assembly, Finance Minister only proposed Rs 60.49 crore and the too under the National Horticulture Mission (NHM) for crop diversification despite all the talk about saving ground water by diversifying area under the water-intensive paddy crop. Also, there was no mention about support provided to around 7,000 farmers for diversifying crops under 10,000 acre area as purposed in last year’s Punjab budget.
According to the budget provisions declared on Monday, ”The paddy-wheat cycle has adversely impacted the state’s natural resources — soil and water. Agriculture experts recommend that the state, therefore, needs to give a special emphasis to improve the sustainability of its agriculture and to diversify the cropping pattern. It needs to shift about ten lakh hectare from paddy cultivation so as to maintain its water level. Thus an allocation of Rs 60.49 crore is purposed under the National Horticulture Mission during 2019-2011.”
An expert from Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) Ludhiana, who did not wish to be named, said that he failed to understand that what the Finance Minister wanted to gain by allocating such small amount for diversification. “This amount cannot even support one per cent farmers of Punjab,” he said.
The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has 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 becoming a dessert in coming decades.
“Punjab has huge — 30 lakh hectares — area under the rice cultivation, which included around 25 lakh hectares of paddy (Parmal rice) and 5 lakh hectares of Basmati rice, and there are around 18 lakh farmers (according to Punjab government survey) in the state. How can the government justify by proposing just Rs 60 crore for this purpose. Also, the government should first tell that that how many farmers it has supported for diversification in past one year from proposed number of 7,000 farmers in last budget,” said Jagmohan Singh, General Secretary, Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) Ekta Dakuanda.
A farmer from Kangniwal Village in Jalandhar, Gurcharan Singh, said that government should stop making such budgetary provisions just to show the figures as it will not save Punjab’s water.
“Pay us good rate for other crops and we will leave paddy and wheat happily,” said farmer Amarjit Singh of Bhogpur’s Char-Ke village.
“Why can’t government search for a good market for non-MSP crops as that would be a great help than fixing this less than nominal amount for diversification,” said another farmer, Sukhpal Singh.