After ushering in the era of the Green Revolution and filling granaries of the Union government by over-exploiting its water for irrigation, Punjab is faced with the challenge of saving its underground water aquifers.
What is the situation vis-a-vis underground water in Punjab?
According to the state’s own report on the underground water situation, there is over-exploitation of groundwater to meet the agriculture requirements of the state. It says that about 79 percent area of the state is over-exploited. Of 138 blocks, 109 blocks are “over-exploited”, two blocks are “critical” five blocks are “semi-critical” while only 22 blocks are in “safe” category.
What amounts to the major drain on water resources?
The agriculture tube wells are a major factor. While groundwater is being over-exploited to meet the ever-increasing demands of water for diverse purposes — intensive irrigation, drinking, industry, power generation — tube wells get the blame for the situation. At the time of the introduction of the Green Revolution in the mid-sixties, the number of tube wells increased from 50,000 to above 70,000 in the early eighties. It went up to about 10.70 lakh in 2001 and then 11.80 lakh in the year 2005-06. In the year 2012-13, there were approximately 12 lakh tube wells according to the 5th Minor Irrigation Census Report. The state now puts the number at 14 lakh.
Why is the free power supply to farmers being blamed for indiscriminate use of groundwater?
It is often argued that tube wells have an auto-start switch. They turn on as soon as power is supplied and pump water even if it is not required. Various agriculture experts scoff at the free power supply saying it is making the state lose its precious resource.
How is paddy to blame?
On average, there are 34 tube wells per sq. km of net sown area in Punjab. The state policy of free power for agriculture in combination with central policy favorable to paddy cultivation has ended up in indiscriminate use of groundwater. The situation has reached a critical stage and a shift from existing practices is necessary to ensure that the next generation has adequate natural resources for its use. Experts suggest a dire need to diversify.
By when Punjab is feared to face water crisis?
As per a government report, groundwater resources are likely to be used up by the year 2039. Thereafter, only annual replenishable resources will be available.
Which are the districts affected mainly due to lowering of the underground water table?
The water levels have gone down in most parts of the state. The average yearly rate of fall in water levels, in the areas of significant fall in water level (more than 5 m) was worked out to be approximately 0.49 m per year. Districts like Barnala, Bathinda, Fatehgarh Sahib, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Moga, Mohali, Pathankot, Patiala, and Sangrur are worst affected. Moreover, taking the entire area of fall in water level into consideration, the average yearly rate of fall is worked out to be approximately 0.37 m every year for this area.
Does it affect water quality?
Lowering of water table coupled with the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides is causing water quality deterioration in surface and groundwater resources. Groundwater at shallow depth is largely contaminated due to surface water pollution. Nearly 50-60 percent of the groundwater up to 60 meters depth in the state is fresh and fit and generally found in the northern, northeastern and central parts of the state comprising Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Nawanshahr, Ropar, Ludhiana, Fatehgarh Sahib, and Mohali districts. Nearly 20-30 percent of the groundwater generally found in northwestern and central parts comprising Tarn Taran, Patiala, Sangrur, Barnala, and Moga is moderately saline and of marginal quality. Around 15-25% of the groundwater is saline/alkaline and not fit for irrigation use and is generally found in isolated patches in southern and southwestern parts in Muktsar, Bathinda, Mansa, and Sangrur.
What is the government doing about this?
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Friday gave in-principle approval to set up a State Water Authority to ensure better management of water in domestic, agriculture, industry and other purposes in the state. He also announced that a committee under Additional Chief Secretary (Development) Viswajeet Khanna and Vice-Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University Dr B S Dhillon be constituted to explore possibility for change in the existing cropping pattern besides developing a viable scheme to motivate farmers to give up sowing of paddy, a water-guzzling crop, and switch to alternates like maize, pulses, vegetables and horticulture under the crop diversification programme.