Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, on Saturday, announced an ambitious plan of crop diversification across 12 lakh hectares-in the next six years--by breaking the wheat-paddy cycle.
Under the diversification policy, the state government has planned to reduce the area under paddy from 28 lakh hectares to 16 lakh hectares in the first phase. It plans to replace paddy with maize over 4 lakh hectares, with cotton over 2 lakh hectares, sugarcane (1.5 lakh hectares), fodder (1.5 lakh hectares), agro forestry (2 lakh hectares) and pulses, fruits and vegetables (1 lakh hectares).
The chief minister announced the decision at a high-level meeting with officers of a central team led by union secretary (agriculture) Ashish Bahuguna and asked the union government to give incentives to farmers to encourage them to opt for crop diversification.
Badal said the Centre should come forward and bail out Punjab's peasantry. He said the Centre should do "hand holding of farmers" during the initial stage of the crop diversification drive.
"Now it is payback time for the Centre to help our farmers at this crucial juncture in recognition of their superb performance in ensuring national food security," Badal was quoted as saying by a government spokesperson. The CM asked the union government to ensure the economic security of Punjab's farmers.
According to a top government functionary, in the run-up to making this "significant announcement", the chief minister held a series of meetings with farmers and the officers, including a meeting with union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar on September 23.
After meeting Badal, Pawar decided to send a central team to Punjab to hold detailed deliberations on and chalk out a programme for crop diversification in consultation with state officers. Badal urged Pawar to set up another joint committee comprising senior officers of the central and state governments for preparing a roadmap for diversification.
The CM impressed upon the Centre to provide remunerative MSP, coupled with an assured marketing mechanism for alternate crops, especially maize, as the state government was seriously contemplating to enhance the area under maize from 1.5 lakh hectares to 5.5 lakh hectares.
Appreciating Punjab's plan to shift 12 lakh hectares from paddy to other crops, Bahuguna assured the CM all possible assistance from the Centre.
Badal underlined the need for launching a technology mission for "Diversification of agriculture in Green Revolution areas" with an allocation of Rs. 5,000 crore for the 12th five-year plan on the pattern of the mission for "Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India" (BGREI).
The spokesperson said considering that states like Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Assam were making their presence felt in the production of wheat and paddy and in view of the Centre's purported move to review the present system of open-ended purchase of foodgrains at MSP, Punjab was compelled to opt for diversification.
Prominent members of the central team included joint secretary (crops) Mukesh Khullar, joint secretary (food processing industries) JP Meena, joint secretary (national horticulture mission) Sanjeev Chopra, commissioner (animal husbandry) AS Nanda, Nafed MD Rajeev Gupta and National Centre for Agriculture Research and Policy director Dr Ramesh Chander. Punjab cabinet minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur and a battery of officers from the state also attended the meeting.