From plate to plough: Reviving Punjab’s groundwater, and agriculture

By Ashok Gulati, Bharat Sharma & Purvi Thangaraj

The folks of Punjab must be complimented for giving a transparent majority to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) within the Assembly elections. Bhagwant Singh Mann, because the AAP’s elected chief minister, has a golden alternative to place Punjab again on monitor for top & sustainable progress, decrease corruption and freedom from the drug mafia. Only then can Punjab regain its happiness and prosperity. Mann has already vowed to root out corruption, however to date, he has not revealed his blue print for agriculture—a sector through which Punjab was as soon as the front-runner, having ushered within the Green Revolution, however has been languishing currently.

We try right here to sketch out the important thing points in Punjab’s agriculture, the elements which have pushed Punjab to this case, and what may very well be potential options for higher prosperity with sustainability.

The greatest drawback dealing with the state’s agriculture is fast-depleting groundwater and its degrading high quality. Over the final 20 years (2000-2019), the groundwater desk in Punjab has receded by 9.2 metres, the very best amongst all main states (see graphic). Groundwater stress is the very best in Punjab even when it comes to the stage of groundwater growth, with 78% of the evaluation items being categorised as ‘over-exploited’ and the remaining falling underneath vital (4%), semi-critical (6.7%), and secure (11.3%) classes. Moreover, inside Punjab, in districts like Sangrur and Barnala, it has fallen by 24.8 metres (see graphic). This is nothing wanting a plundering of groundwater, and literal robbing of the rights of the state’s future generations. On prime of this depletion is rising degradation of water high quality. Fluoride and nitrate contamination is instantly linked to extreme use of fertilisers. Intensive use of urea and different nitrogen-bearing fertilisers leaves residual nitrates, which leach into the groundwater. Punjab additionally faces excessive uranium focus in groundwater (CGWB, 2021), linked to anthropogenic elements resulting in most cancers incidence. There is an notorious “Cancer Express” that goes from Abohar to Bikaner. This development should be arrested and reversed, if we’ve any love and respect for our youngsters and grandchildren. Interestingly, Mann comes from Sangrur, and any reforms on this ought to begin from his residence district.

But how can we try this? Let us first perceive the drivers behind this downward spiral. Punjab’s success within the Green Revolution led to an explosion of tubewells within the state throughout the Seventies and Nineteen Eighties; afterward, in September 2001, the federal government introduced free energy for farmers. Paddy cultivation, which was already on the rise, turned extra entrenched with assured and open-ended procurement by the federal government at MSP. Massive subsidising of urea (~75% of the price) additional lured the farmers into urea overuse, in a race to extend productiveness. It is these subsidies on energy, fertilisers, and open-ended procurement at assured MSP that made paddy extra worthwhile in comparison with competing crops like maize and kharif pulses. Today, Punjab’s well-known dishes, ‘makki ki roti aur sarson da saag’ and ‘dal makhni’, should not supported by its personal cropping sample, which has grow to be largely a paddy-wheat rotation. It should get out of this for its personal prosperity and sustainability of its agriculture.

The resolution lies in transferring away from paddy to different remunerative, much less water-intensive crops. Today, paddy is grown on nearly 3.1 million hectares within the state; this should be reduce by nearly half, if no more. It can’t be completed in a single day. But Mann has 5 years to transform his goals into actuality. A five-year plan, as a New Deal for farmers, might be chalked out. Punjab has the very best irrigation cowl (~99%). It can go massively towards horticulture and different high-value crops with fertigation (drip irrigation with soluble fertilisers). This will instantly reduce down water depletion and environmental degradation. But a horticulture revolution requires vital participation by the personal sector—in constructing environment friendly worth chains, from farmers to customers. Punjab can goal airlifting of horti-produce for nations within the Persian Gulf. It is a agri-surplus state, and should market produce past the federal government procurement. MSP wants revamping. Agri-marketing start-ups should be supported to market ‘Grown in Punjab’ produce in metros, and, in fact, for exports. Horticulture requires a sequence of chilly storages, reefer vans, AC retailers, together with agro-processing. This is a good funding alternative.

Punjab’s dairy is doing properly, with the very best yields within the nation. It should construct on that with extra value-added merchandise, from lassi and makkhan to kulfi and so on. Punjab can even emerge as a centre for buffalo meat export to Southeast Asian nations. Replacing some paddy farms with dairy/fodder farms is water-efficient, too.

Basmati rice and wheat can proceed with extra worth addition and branding. Pulses and oilseeds, wherever match, should be rewarded by additional incentives given on to farmers for saving groundwater, utilizing much less subsidised urea, much less energy, and reducing down on methane and nitrous oxide emissions.Per hectare DBT for switching from paddy to pulses and oilseeds can be the way in which to go (not MSP-bound procurement by authorities businesses). This is like creating carbon credit and rewarding farmers for that by revolutionary insurance policies. That can be the highway to farmers’ prosperity with sustainability. The problem for Mann is to create insurance policies and scale up pilots, particularly within the hotspot districts in central Punjab that may save groundwater and reduce down emissions whereas making farmers extra affluent.

Respectively, Infosys Chair professor, senior visiting fellow, and analysis assistant, ICRIER

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