Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has announced to advance the sowing of paddy by a week – to June 13 instead of the earlier announced June 20 for the coming season. Farmers in Punjab have been demanding to be allowed to go for early sowing. Last season, after the government postponed the paddy sowing date from June 15 to June 20, farmers claimed that the five day delay led to a decrease in yield. In the backdrop of the General Election, when the parties are sparing no effort to woo each section of the society, how does Punjab CM’s announcement help the lot of the state’s farmers and affects the ever-depleting water table in the state. The Indian Express attempts to explain.
What is nutshell benefit of this announcement? What do farmers want?
When compared with the paddy sowing date in 2018, when it was June 20, this year’s announcement benefits the farmers by a week. However, when compared it with 2017, when it was June 15, this benefit shrinks to a marginal two days. Farmers want that the government should allow sowing of paddy between June 5 and June 20.
Why fix a date for paddy sowing in Punjab?
In Punjab, the water table has drastically gone down with 116 agricultural blocks out of total 141 in dark zone. Successive governments have failed to arrest the area under paddy, which is being cultivated on 30 lakh hectares. This despite launching various diversification schemes. The government fixed a date for paddy sowing that is nearer to the onset of monsoon so that not much pressure is put on ground water.
When was the date fixed? How and when is the date shifted?
Till 2007, farmers were free to sow paddy nursery on any date after wheat harvesting. It was in 2008 when for the first time government ordered the farmers to sow paddy on June 10. Later, the government brought in the Punjab Preservation of Sub Soil Water Act 2009 to enforce a date. In 2014, government passed another notification, deciding June 15 as official date of paddy sowing. Then in April 2018, government issued yet another notification delaying the paddy sowing by five more days. Now in 2019, in the election year, under pressure from farmers, the Punjab CM has advanced the date by a week. Punjab is the first state, which passed such Act.
Government says earlier farmers used to sow paddy nursery in the beginning of May to transplant the sapling in the fields in the first week of June. This was taking a heavy toll on underground water in the peak summer season when temperature soars up to 45°C, and the average sunshine duration is nine to nine-and-a-half hours which leads to fast water evaporation. It forces farmers to frequently fill the fields with water, affecting the water table. According to government, a one day delay can save 4.80-lakh million litres of ground water.
Why do farmers want an early date of paddy sowing? Are they defying government orders?
Farmers last year blamed the five day delay in paddy sowing, coupled with late rain in second half of September when crop was at the stage of maturity, for a low yield – the state recorded a shortfall of nearly 5 lakh tonnes.
General Secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, said that due to late sowing, the harvesting also gets delayed and it affects the crop, which carries more than 24 per cent moisture against permissible limit of up to 17% at the time of harvesting in October, at the onset of winters in Punjab. High moisture crop does not give farmers the full MSP.
BKU Ekta (Dakuanda) general Secretary Jagmohan Singh said that if the paddy is sown late, nearly all the estimated 15 lakh tubewells in state run simultaneously putting a huge burden on power supply infrastructure and the water table. “If government wants to delay sowing date then it should allow us to either burn the paddy stubble in the field or give us Rs 5000 per acre to arrange machinery for managing 200 lakh tonnes of such stubble before wheat sowing on November 1,” Singh said
Hundreds of activists associated with BKU Ugrahan have been sowing paddy on June 10 for the past couple of years by running diesel-operated tube wells mostly in Malwa region.
How does government check the farmers from going for early sowing?
Government can stop the supply of power, which farmers need to run the tubewells to fill the fields before sowing. It can book the errant farmers and can also get uprooted the transplanted paddy.
What is farmers’ take on short term paddy varieties (120 to 123 days including nursery period), which can be sown at the onset of monsoon and save huge amount of ground water?
Kokrikalan said short term varieties are not liked by the farmers due to breakage problem. On saving ground water, he said the farmers are ready for diversification, against paddy but government must give assured price for the other crops.
What do scientists say about short varieties?
Dr GS Mangat, senior rice breeder at Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, said that short duration paddy takes 123 to 130 days, including nursery period, to mature and the yield is high while the long duration varieties take 155 to 160 days. Now long duration varieties are being sown in just 10 per cent of the total area under paddy in Punjab. The short duration paddy can be harvested in first week of October, providing farmers 25 to 30 days to manage the paddy stubble.
What about last year’s low yield when paddy was sown at a delayed date?
The scientists at PAU said that last year the weather conditions remained unfavourable for paddy crop right from the beginning in June till end of September. The low yield cannot be blamed on the shift in date of paddy sowing and “it would be irrational to roll back the water saving intervention” of June 20. as transplanting date. They said last year in Haryana, and in some areas of Muktsar in Punjab, the paddy was transplanted between June 10-20, but low yield was recorded.
Last year, the early part of the rice season (June- July) was wetter and higher cloud cover was observed throughout the state during the rice vegetative phase, as a result of which there was a reduction in the number of sunshine hours, they said. This led to decreased tillering.
In several districts 8 to 10 times more rain was recorded in September month when paddy was at the stage of maturity, which led to a dip in temperature by 4-5 degrees resulting in less photosynthesis and low yield. For instance, in Ludhiana, the average rainfall recorded during September 2017 was 24.4 mm as compared to 250.6 mm in 2018.
But farmers says such weather conditions can occur in future too and to avoid loss, paddy sowing should be allowed from June 5.