Punjab ‘emptying’ reservoirs to grow water-guzzling rice
First, the good news. Punjab has made a record contribution of rice to the central pool. During the 2015-16 crop season, the state contributed 93.5 lakh tonnes to the public distribution system (PDS).
Now, the bad news. To grow one kilogram of rice, as many as 5,337 litres of water is required ‑ more than 260 buckets of 20-litre capacity. The water consumed by rice for the central pool is five times more than the capacity of the Gobind Sagar lake, the reservoir of the Bhakra dam. The reservoir’s gross capacity is 9,621 million cubic metres.
According to figures recently released by the Food Corporation of India (FCI), Punjab has gone past the earlier all-time-high mark of 92.75 lakh tonnes, recorded in 2009-10.
The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), which fixes the minimum support price (MSP) mainly for paddy and wheat, has observed that the water requirement for paddy in West Bengal is less than half (2,605 litres per kg of rice) as compared to Punjab.
In the 2015-16 season, the total paddy harvested was 180 lakh tonnes, of which the rice shelled was 120 lakh tonnes - consuming six times the capacity of the Gobind Sagar lake (the rice shelled is two-thirds of a given quantity of paddy).
Irrigation water for agriculture in Punjab is fed 27% by canals and 73% by tubewells. As agriculture in the state is not much dependent on rain, it is largely fed by underground water, which is extracted with the help of about 12 lakh tubewells.
Incessant extraction of water with tubewells has forced the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to declare two-thirds of Punjab a grey zone, where the water level has gone as deep as 400 ft.
Talking to HT, agriculture economist Sardara Singh Johl said: “We have been telling the Punjab government to restrict paddy cultivation to 16 lakh hectares, but the area has touched 29 lakh hectares.” In a report submitted in 1986, he had told the government to curtail paddy cultivation in the state. In 2012, the Punjab state farmers commission had asked the government to reduce this area to half.
In a recently compiled report, the CACP said, “…this shows that the most efficient state (Punjab) in terms of land productivity is not the most efficient if other factors of production, namely water, are factored in.”
India exports about 100 lakh tonnes of rice annually, which implies that more than 38 billion cubic metres of water is consumed – equivalent to 20 times the capacity of the Gobind Sagar lake.