With the rainfall deficit having reached an alarmingly high 58% in Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government alerted the union government on Tuesday about “drought-like conditions” and reiterated its plea for Rs. 2,330 crore special central assistance to “mitigate the effects of deficient rainfall.”
The Parkash Singh Badal government has taken the plea that similar drought-like situation had hit Punjab in the 2009 kharif season and that then union government had released Rs. 800 crore as assistance for additional cost incurred by Punjab in providing power to the agriculture sector.
Even though it was an official holiday in Punjab on Tuesday, key functionaries of the agricultural department and financial commissioner, development (FCD), Suresh Kumar swung into action after being sounded that union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh had denied that Punjab had sought any help in view of scarce rainfall.
The state government took up the issue with Ashish Bahuguna, secretary, union ministry of agriculture, and informed him about the proposal sent by the director, agriculture, to the commissioner, agriculture, of the union government. The Badal administration specifically informed the union secretary, agriculture, that the chief minister had also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking Rs. 2,330-crore help.
Referring to the union agriculture minister’s reported statement that Punjab had not sought any assistance to mitigate effects of drought during the kharif season, the state government said: “…the requisite proposals and contingency plan have already reached the (union) ministry.”
In a detailed July 29 demi-official letter, FCD Suresh Kumar said: “The drought-like conditions are still prevailing in the state, with 58% deficiency in rainfall as on July 28. Farmers and the state government are extremely stressed to save crops by spending huge amounts on diesel and electricity.”
Due to the current scanty rainfall, Badal told Modi, about 85,000 tubewells would require further deepening, costing about Rs. 700 crore. And, the state power corporation, “which is diverting electricity from paying sectors to non-paying agriculture sector”, is likely to incur an additional expenditure of Rs. 1,500 crore, Badal had said in his July 4 letter to the Prime Minister.
In 2010-11, fiscal agriculture contributed about 22% of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP).
Almost 98% cultivated area of Punjab is under assured irrigation, with about 73% of the area under tubewell irrigation and the rest being supplied irrigation water by canals.
Punjab has told the Centre that of the total 11.56 lakh electrical tubewells in the state, 50,000 having mono block pump sets go defunct and farmers have to replace them.
“It is estimated that during the current year, nearly 85,000 tubewells will be deepened and the average cost varies from Rs. 1.5 lakh to Rs. 2.5 lakh, As such, farmers will have to incur additional Rs. 700 crore on deepening tubewells, for which they need to be compensated,” says the detailed financial relief-seeking proposal of the state government.
The state government has also urged the Centre to examine the possibility of conversion of short-term credit to medium-term credit and that interest payable to the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) on funds provided to cooperative banks should be lowered so that the banks can pass on the benefits to farmers.