M A I N   N E W S

Poor monsoon hits Punjab hard
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 15
A poor monsoon means Punjab faces a drought-like situation that has not only jacked up the cost of paddy cultivation but also dealt a triple blow to the state. It has hit the state resources as power is being purchased at exorbitant rates, the farmers profitability will go down and it has caused substantial harm by speeding up the depletion of underground water.

Except for the districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Ropar, Kapurthala and Muktsar, all other areas have been classified by the Regional Meteorological Office here as having received either “deficient” or “scanty” rainfall. However, overall there is an 18 per cent shortfall of rain from normal for this time of the monsoon. As per the met records this falls within the normal range. However, most of the state is very dry.

In fact, the state government had already informed the Centre about the alarming situation in the state on account of the poor monsoon and the consequent overstretching of resources like power, increased consumption of diesel and excessive utilisation of underground water.

The Director, Agriculture, Mr Balwinder Singh Sidhu, told The Tribune today that a detailed report indicating that rainfall had been deficient and unevenly distributed in the state had been sent to the Centre. The department report also talks about the jacked up cost of paddy cultivation. The state faces a “drought-like” situation, he said while explaining that the paddy crop had been saved due to tubewells. As much as 94 per cent of the state is covered under assured irrigation based on canal water or tubewells.

Experts say the cost of growing paddy will rise by at least Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 per acre as compared to last year. The Punjab Chief Minister had said yesterday in Chandigarh that “we are facing a drought-like situation”.

To save the crop farmers are forced to run tubewells. These are operated by pumpsets run on diesel or power. Now Punjab faces a three-pronged crisis due to the lack of rain. First, the state is buying power from outside sources to provide at least eight hours of powers supply to the agricultural sector. This power, according to officials in the Punjab State Electricity Board, is being purchased at nearly Rs 6 per unit and is provided free to farmers. The state-provided subsidy on power to the agricultural sector does not even cover half the cost.

Secondly, farmers are buying more and more diesel to run pumpsets to operate tubewells. Some farmers do not have power connections. The eight-hour power supply is sufficient for farmers who own 3 to 4 acres. Those with bigger land holdings are forced to use diesel pumpsets.

Thirdly, the operation of tubewells means the underground water is falling at a rate that is much faster than normal. Already several areas is Punjab have been identified as dark blocks by the Central Ground Water Board. Experts say this year the state has had to rely heavily on tubewells which was catastrophic.

The badly affected districts in Punjab are Moga (76 per cent shortfall), Ludhiana (46 per cent), Sangrur (41 per cent), Nawanshahr (38 per cent), Bathinda (43 per cent), Patiala (20 per cent), Jalandhar (23 per cent), Hoshiarpur (66 per cent), Ferozepore (33 per cent) and Faridkot (19 per cent).

Sources in the government say no claim can be made officially for drought despite suffering such a huge loss. The matter will, however, be taken up with the Central Government.





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