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Vishal Rambani, Hindustan Times
Patiala, May 05, 2012
A national-level study has pointed out that Punjab draws the maximum groundwater in the country for irrigation in terms of geographical area. The state occupies 1.54% of the country's total area. According to the figures of a 2009 study released by the union ministry of water resources, Punjab draws 34.66 billion cubic metres (bcm) of groundwater annually, which is two times more than much bigger states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Bihar. Uttar Pradesh draws 49.48 bcm of groundwater, the highest in the country, but it is nearly four times larger than Punjab. Arunachal Pradesh extracts the minimum 0.003 bcm of groundwater, a groundwater resource assessment, jointly carried out by the Central Ground Water Board and state groundwater organisations, has found.

Out of the 34.66 bcm of groundwater drawn by Punjab, 33.97 bcm is used for irrigation. The remaining is used for domestic and industrial purposes. The annual groundwater extraction in the country for irrigation is 221 bcm, while the domestic and industrial sectors use only 22 bcm of this resource.

Punjab has no policy to check the depletion of groundwater level, a major cause for concern for agricultural scientists in the state. As many as 107 of the 127 blocks in the state are facing a grim situation due to overexploitation of groundwater, which is mostly used to irrigate the paddy crop.

The union ministry of water resources has circulated among all states and union territories the "model bill to regulate and control the development and management of groundwater" to enable them to enact a suitable legislation on groundwater exploitation, but Punjab is yet to adopt any features of the bill.

"Free electricity for irrigation is to blame for the overuse and misuse of groundwater resources, but the government can do little about it since it is more of a political issue," said a senior agriculture department officer.

"The government has taken some measures by delaying the paddy season. But there is a need to wean away farmers from cultivating paddy, which is the main reason behind the depletion of groundwater," said Punjab Agricultural University vice-chancellor BS Dhillon. He said the diversification process should be set in motion by fixing MSPs for maize, pulses and other crops and ensuring their procurement.