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HindustanTimes Tue,16 Sep 2014

Punjab wants higher drought relief, a special yardstick

Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, August 19, 2014
First Published: 10:58 IST(19/8/2014) | Last Updated: 11:01 IST(19/8/2014)

Punjab has made a case for higher drought compensation to its farmers after the Centre has declared a meagre amount.

It wants a different yardstick applied to the paddy belt (which includes Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh) in the assessment of compensation need. “How can the areas producing more than 20 quintals of paddy and wheat out of each acre be equated with the parts where the yield is only 4 to 5 quintals,” Punjab agriculture minister Tota Singh stated here on Monday.

He clarified that the current kharif season would have a bumper crop, at least 5-lakh tonnes up from the previous season figure of 142-lakh tonnes. “But at what cost; the farmers have exhausted their savings burning diesel worth about ` 8,000 for each acre they had to irrigate with the help of tractor-engine-powered tubewells during drought, besides their expenditure on a series of pesticide sprays and extra doze of fertilisers,” said Tota Singh, adding that after the August 21 byelections, he would take up the issue with chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.

The Centre has promised to compensate farmers who own up to 2 hectares (about 5 acres) with Rs 1,050 per hectare (Rs 420 per acre) as subsidy on extra diesel used to run the tubewells. Tota Singh said the Centre was aware that Punjab was a big contributor to the national pool of foodgrains and that its farmers deserved better compensation.

The state’s political machinery is criticising the central drought relief in hushed tones already. In repeated visits to the central ministers, the CM has demanded a relief package of Rs 2,330 crore but what the state received only about Rs 73 crore. Parkash Singh Badal demanded ` 700 crore to re-dig nearly 85,000 tube-wells that might have gone redundant because of excessive withdrawing of subsoil water to irrigate the fields during deficient monsoon.

He also seeks Rs 1,500 crore to compensate the state’s power corporation that has incurred additional expenditure on the purchase of electricity for the agriculture sector. Punjab faces a 59% rainfall deficit and scenario is grimmer in the highyield belt of Sangrur, Patiala and Barnala districts.

Denying that Punjab exaggerated the figures before the Centre, Tota Singh said agriculture was the only source of income for the state.

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“Punjab island locked and without any mineral wealth. If agriculture, which is in a tough phase already, goes unviable, the state will be ruined,” said the minister. The state farmers’ commission has demanded a bonus of Rs 150per quintal on the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy (Rs1,350 per quintal) already.

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