With paddy being grown on lakhs of hectares every year, it seems that heavy and above normal rainfall will be the only saviour for farmers in near future, especially in Sangrur district where water table in different zones has been declining at an alarming speed.
Already, the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has categorised all zones, including Sangrur, Bhiwanigarh, Sunam, Lehragaga, Dhuri, Sherpur Malerkotla, Anandana and Mandi Ahmedgarh, as 'overexploited' due to excessive drawing of ground water, posing a threat to paddy growers.
If geology experts are to be believed, due to depleting water table, farmers in near future will not only get poor quality water, threatening soil health, but it may also increase input costs for fetching ground water.
The agriculture department is expected to have around 2.44 lakh hectares area under paddy this year against 2.75 lakh hectares in 2012.
Assistant geologist Deepak Sethi said the problem of water table depletion is severe in Sangrur district as it has been recorded between 22 and 30 metre.
He added that as per the last year's findings, several areas recorded grim figures as water level has gone to more than 30 metre.
“It has been recorded that water table went down 1 metre every year on an average in the past decade in Sangrur district,” he said.
Sethi added that water discharge during paddy sowing season is comparatively on a higher and this contributes to water table depletion.
“If water table continues to decline at this speed, farmers will be either have to depend completely on rainfall or spend heavy amount for fetching water,” he said, adding that rainfall remained only source to recharge water table in central Punjab.
Unlike last year, geologists this time heaved a sigh of relief as 57mm of rain has already been recorded during the paddy season, which started on June 10.
“We are hopeful that water table can be maintained this year as the Indian Meteorological Department predicted good pre-monsoon showers and above-normal rainfall in monsoon,” he said.
Diversification, direct paddy sowing can be alternatives
Taking serious note of depleting water table, in a recent draft of agriculture policy, Punjab State Farmers' Commission (PSFC) chairman GS Kalkat had proposed to the government to promote crop diversification and exhort farmers to grow maize, vegetables, cereals and pulses in order to replace water-guzzling crop.
Chief agriculture officer Rajinder Singh Sohi said under diversification project, in order to reduce area under paddy, maize will be grown on 1,500 hectares, cotton on 14,000 hectares, sugarcane in 3,000 hectares and sambhar moong in 1,000 hectares.
Sohi said to save water, around 7,500 acre of paddy has been sown with Direct-Seeded Rice (DSR) technology, which consumes much less water that traditional the sowing method. Last year, 1,250 acres were sown with DSR.
Under DSR, paddy seeds are sown almost like wheat. As per agriculture experts, it requires 50% less water and 90% less labour.