Jun 16, 2010

Punjab -- food bowl of the country -- is fast drying up.

Punjab is in crisis. The food bowl of the country is fast drying up. We have time and again sounded the warning bells in these columns. I don't think even Punjab wants to think of the ecological disaster that is steadily building up.

But does Punjab care? I don't think so. Over the years I have seen Punjab bringing in policies and the so called 'development' measures that actually is acerbating the water crisis. Over the years, the situation at the underground level has only worsened. But who cares? After all, you live for today. So exploit the natural resources as much as you can do it. I guess this is the general tendency.

As this detailed report 'That Sinking Feeling' (Indian Express, June 16, 2010) brings out, the groundwater level is fast depleting. farmers are going deeper and deeper in search of water. To make matters worse, more and more farmers are replacing centrifugal pumps with submersible ones which are digging deep into its water table. The total number of such pumps has reached nearly 4.5 lakh in the state. In the dark zones of the state, the pumps have gone down to a depth of 450 feet.

What's more worrying, says the Punjab Farmers Commission, is that the damage from submersible pumps cannot be undone even by rains. "Rain water can recharge groundwater up to 80-90 feet. So pumps going up to 300-400 feet are drawing from reserves which are being exhausted without any scope for replacement," says the commission's consultant, Dr PS Rangi.

Before you read the Indian Express report below, I draw your attention to a blog post: Who cares for vanishing ground water? http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.com/2009/08/who-cares-for-vanishing-ground-water.html

That Sinking Feeling

Indiscriminate use of pumps has taken its toll on Punjab's water table, with 103 out of 141 development blocks being declared 'over-exploited' and 12 blocks 'dried out' completely

By Sukhideep Kaur
Chandigarh/June 15

WITH the runaway success of the green revolution in the `70s, Punjab formed an important part of the country's food bowl. Consider the figures: with a mere1.5 per cent of India's total geographical area, the state accounts for 22 per cent of the country's wheat production and 13 per cent of rice and cotton. Nearly 85 per cent of its land is under cultivation.

However, Punjab's contribution to the nation's food security is coming at the cost of its natural resources. The land of bountiful rivers and crops is fast heading towards desertification, warn hydrologists. The water table in as much as 79 per cent of Punjab is depleting fast, with 103 out of 141 blocks declared over-exploited (more than 85 per cent exploitation) by the Central Groundwater Board and as many as 12 blocks labelled absolutely dark, where groundwater has completely dried out. The rate of exploitation in several blocks of its central districts of Jalandhar, Moga and Ludhiana ranges between 200 to 250 per cent with Nihalsinghwala block in Moga district being the worst affected at an exploitation rate of 400 per cent.

The first alarm was sounded in July 2007 by the Union Water Resources Ministry which had asked Punjab to address the impending crisis through a legislation. In August 2009, based on satellite imagery, NASA scientists too warned of a "collapse of agricultural output and severe shortage of potable water" in India's bread basket. Led by hydrologist Matt Rodell, who has been tracking the disappearing groundwater in northern India, particularly in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, using twin satellites of GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Change Experiment), scientists, in their report posted on the NASA website in August last year, had warned that "beneath northern India's irrigated fields of wheat, rice and barley.... the groundwater is fast disappearing."

The state brought in a law -Punjab Preservation of Sub-Soil Water -in 2008 prohibiting farmers from sowing paddy nursery before May 10 and transplanting it before June 10.

However, with the number of tubewells growing from 1.2 lakh in 1970s to 12.32 lakh in 2009 and another 52,889 connections released last year, the groundwater decline has reached 50 to 100 cm per annum in the state with the irrigation deficit of 1.36 mham being met from overdrawing of groundwater. The free power regime is also fuelling indiscriminate exploitation of groundwater. Though the state has started billing farmers this year, it is too little and too late. The farmers will be charged at a heavily discounted rate of 50 bhp per month, one-fifth of the actual cost, and the bills would be collected biannually and reimbursed to them as productivity bonus by the government.

To make matters worse, more and more farmers are replacing centrifugal pumps with submersible ones which are digging deep into its water table. The total number of such pumps has reached nearly 4.5 lakh in the state. In the dark zones of the state, the pumps have gone down to a depth of 450 feet.

The Punjab Directorate of Water Resources which is monitoring all the three zones of the state --Majha, Doaba and Malwa --says 325 out of a total of 551 sites under observation have shown a fall in the water table in the period from June 2008 to June 2009. After every paddy season, the situation gets worse. "Nearly 65 per cent of sites in Doaba have shown a decline, 63 per cent in Malwa and 47 per cent in Majha. Though some sites have shown improvement, it is very minimal," says K S Takshi, Punjab Director of Water Resources. Former Chief Conservator of Soils and Water, Punjab, A K Sondhi attributes this to demand-availability deficit. "Against a demand of 4.40 million hectares metre (mhm) -that is one million hectares of land covered with water one metre deep -the deficit in Punjab is 1.36 mhm.

This deficit is being met by groundwater. In the central part of Punjab, the water table was at 15 feet in 1964.

With the green revolution, it started declining. During 1993 to 2003, the average fall in water table in Punjab was 2 feet per year. Now, out of 70 blocks, water table in 40 blocks has gone down below 50 feet. The worst affected districts are Sangrur and Moga where the water table is below 50 feet in 12 out of 13 and four out of five blocks respectively " he says.

Read the full report at:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insight. Would these debates get more airtime, among the more *important* ones like spectrum allocation frauds etc?

It is interesting to note that while you have mentioned sugarcane as a water intensive, while the IE articles recommends it as a cash crop.