Punjab stares at a parched future, to run out of groundwater in 20 years
Different national and state level agencies have predicted a grim scenario for Punjab, with over a majority of the state — 79% to be precise — over-exploiting its sub soil water, the water found immediately below the top soil.
If the annual rate of fall in sub soil water, currently 51 cm per year, continues, the state would empty all its water reserves in 22 years turning the country’s food bowl into a desert. From being food producer, the state would become a consumer.
According to a 2017 study by the Central Ground Water Board of the Ministry of Water Resources, 10 districts are the worst affected, including Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Moga, Pathankot, and Patiala. There, the fall is most acute, at nearly one metre a year.
The fall is evident from the fact that tubewells in these districts are dug as deep as 300 feet to get water fit for irrigation.
Only 16% of the state is in a safe zone. Out of the 138 blocks mapped, 109 blocks or 79% over exploit their sub-soil water, and 17 blocks or 16% of state’s area fall in the safe zone.
According to figures provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States of America, the groundwater level in the state is depleting at an average of one metre every three years.
“We alone can’t be blamed for the fall. There are other users such as industry and domestic users who over exploit the subsoil reserves. And schools, colleges and hospitals waste with impunity,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, who heads a faction of the Bharatiya Kisan union.
However, the state agriculture department’s figures show that of 35.78 billion cubic metre water extracted from the ground, 96.65% water is used to grow paddy, while 0.53% is used by industry, and 2.82% is used for domestic purposes.
In fact, the Government of Punjab enacted a law, titled Preservation of Subsoil Water Act in 2009, which mandated delayed paddy nursery and sowing activities by farmers in Punjab.
Punjab is one of the biggest producers of wheat and paddy.
The state agriculture department forecasts that if the rate of fall continues, water up to the depth of 100 m will finish in 12 years while the water available at 300 m will finish in 20-25 years.
“Falling water table is serious environmental concern. Civil society should join the effort to save our natural resources,” said Punjab’s secretary of agriculture department KS Pannu.