While the Punjab CM has advanced paddy transplantation date by three days from June 13 last year to June 10 this year, the actual shift in the date since 2018 has been 10 days. The date before that used to be June 20. While last year it was moved due to Lok Sabha polls, this year’s shift is due to labour shortage because of Covid-19. While farmers want it to begin from June 1, experts feel that even already advanced transplantation date means that around 30-40 per cent more groundwater will be extracted to compensate for the heatwave condition prevailing in June every year. It also means 30 per cent more increase in power usage to run tubewells longer.
Farmers, however, claim that delay in sowing leads to less yield and leaves less time to manage paddy stubble before sowing wheat from November 1.
Paddy, which is sown in 21-22 lakh hectares in the state, is transplanted in a puddled field and requires half feet standing water for the next three weeks, which farmers extend to 4 to 6 weeks. The load, therefore, on the state’s groundwater table is immense.
Basmati consumes less water and is sown after arrival of monsoons. It also covers only 7 lakh hectares in the state.
“With the starting of paddy transplanting from June 10, and if the state is able to tap available rural labour (in the absence of migrant labourers largely) including MNREGA workers for paddy sowing even then 25 to 30% (5.50 to 6 lakh hectares) paddy transplanting would be completed by June 20,” said a senior officer in Punjab Agriculture Department, adding that it is a huge burden on groundwater when 116 agricultural blocks out of total 141 are under dark zone in the state.
According to the government’s own estimate, one day delay can save 4.80-lakh million litres of groundwater during paddy season when 15.50 lakhs electricity operated tube wells including 1.5 lakh diesel operated are supposed to run in the state.
Dr G S Mangat, senior rice breeder at Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, said: “We recommend paddy sowing by June 25 at the onset of monsoon, which hits state by June end, and have developed short duration paddy varieties which take just 123 to 130 days including nursery period against 155 to 160 days long varieties, which PAU does not recommend, but due to unprecedented conditions of coronavirus and shortage of labour, the advancement of paddy was required. But it should not be a regular feature to save the groundwater of the state”. He also added that short varieties can be harvested in the first week of October providing 25 to 30 days to the farmers for managing the paddy stubble.
PAU experts also said that in June the temperature rises from 42 to 45 degrees in Punjab and water in the fields gets evaporated soon.
“Say if paddy is transplanted 20 days ahead of the monsoon then 200 mm (around 8 inches) water will be wasted in the evaporation only on lakhs of hectares of paddy fields which means millions of litres more water to be required to pump out to irrigate the same crop, which can be irrigated in less water if sown a little late, and ultimately a big set back to the groundwater,” said another senior scientist at PAU.
Experts in the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) also said that it will also lead 30 per cent more power consumption.
“On June 20, 2018 on the first day of paddy sowing the power demand was 1363 MW as several pre-monsoon showers had hit the state by June 16. On June 13 last year, the power demand was 1900 MW which was around 28 per cent more than the previous year’s first day
demand,” said one of the Superintendent Engineers in PSPCL.
Farmers, however, pointed out that when the date was June 20 in 2018 to begin transplantation, around five lakh tonnes less paddy had arrived in state mandis compared to the previous year.
BKU (Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan said that “late sowing creates panic among farmers and they run all 15 lakh tubewell simultaneously, while early sowing gives them time to sow gradually”.
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