Punjab beyond paddy

FF

The monsoon was almost missing during June-July, the two crucial months of paddy transplantation, but Punjab is looking once again at reaping a record harvest. Since the green revolution of the 1960s, the area under paddy has touched nearly 28 lakh hectares and Punjab contributes about 135 lakh tonnes of paddy (90 lakh tonnes rice after milling) to the central pool.

But it has been coming at the cost of its precarious fiscal and natural resources. Punjab's soil fertility and water table are both depleting at alarming levels and about 80 per cent of state's free power bill — it has touched Rs 5,400 crore this year — to farmers is for irrigating their paddy fields, with nearly 97 per cent of the state's cultivable area under assured irrigation from 13 lakh tubewells and several canals.

Besides, the state's agriculture was facing an impending crisis, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar warned during a visit to Punjab in August. There would be no takers for its bountiful paddy after a few years when eastern and northeastern states start producing enough. The Union budget has allocated a special grant to those states for 'Bringing Green Revolution to the Eastern India'.

The state's demand for a Rs-5,118-crore drought relief package did not find favour with Pawar. The amount would have included compensation to farmers for burning diesel to run their pump-sets and to the state power utility for buying power at high costs to save the paddy crop.

The shift

Sensing danger for its farming community, who have so far not heeded government advice to shift from paddy because of its assured minimum support price, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal met Pawar again on August 25 in New Delhi to demand that the Centre ensure economic security and prosperity of Punjab farmers who played a pivotal role in securing national food security. "Now it is payback time for the Centre to help our farmers at this crucial juncture," he said.

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