Revenue and public relations minister Bikram Singh Majithia has sought the support of the union government to bring about diversification in Punjab by encouraging farmers to sow crops like sugarcane, maize, soya bean, pulses and oilseeds, for which, he said, the Centre must be ready to give assured prices.
"To save Punjab from any future agrarian crisis due to fast depleting groundwater level, the area under water-guzzling crops needs to be reduced and this can only be done if farmers diversify to other crops, for which assured prices are a must. If farmers are not given assured and fixed prices, they will stick to paddy and wheat," he said, while addressing a district-level farmers' fair here on Friday.
Majithia added that Punjab, with 2% of the country's geographical area, had been feeding the country by contributing 50-60% foodgrains every year to the national pool. In the process it had lost valuable natural resources like groundwater and the health of the soil too had deteriorated, he added.
Majithia pointed out that though agriculture was a state subject, all major policies and decisions in this sector were decided by the central government, including the prices of inputs and the output cost that is the minimum support price (MSP). He lamented that while the input costs have increased regularly, the market price for crops has not risen proportionately.
Referring to the state's Agricultural Diversification Plan of `8,775 crore, the minister said the support was all the more important now with the Centre mulling to do away with the MSP regime. Left with no other alternative, the state had to go in for diversification of agriculture, he added.
Majithia claimed that the UPA government was indulging in doublespeak. On one hand, it was asking the state to go in for crop diversification, on the other hand, it was not ready to fix a remunerative MSP for alternative crops like cotton, maize and basmati.
He added that non-implementation of the Swaninathan Committee report lays bare yet another facet of the anti-farmer face of the UPA. To bail out the farmers in this hour of crisis and to save agriculture, the state government was investing nearly `6,000 crore per year for providing free electricity to the agricultural sector.
Further highlighting the initiatives of the state government, Majithia said due to failure of the central government in restoring the subsidy on the solar irrigation pump sets from 30% to 70%, Punjab has taken it upon itself to enhance the same through its own limited resources. He said the Punjab government has finalised an ambitious project to provide subsidy of `1 lakh each on installation of solar irrigation pump sets.