Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, February 18
While Punjab was bleeding financially, the state government was spending almost Rs1,500 crore every year as irrigation subsidy to meet the food security needs of the nation.
The fact came to the fore in the first-ever audit report on Punjab’s groundwater prepared by Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
According to sources in the Department of Water Resources, the 26-page report is to be tabled in upcoming budget session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha commencing Thursday.
The CAG report observed that the estimates of the cost of irrigation on cultivation of paddy and wheat, prepared by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics (DES), were lesser by 47 per cent to 87 per cent between 2013 and 2018 than what was estimated by the Punjab Government. The outcome of the gap was that between 2013 and 2018, the state ended up spending Rs 7,162 crore from its own funds to subsidise irrigation to produce rice and wheat, which was contributed in the central pool.
During 2017-18, Punjab contributed 38 per cent of wheat and 31 per cent of rice to the central pool, which accounted for 66 per cent and 88 per cent of its own yield of wheat and rice.
In Punjab, 71 per cent of the net irrigated area is under tubewell irrigation using groundwater and only 29 per cent canal water is being used. “The cost of irrigation using groundwater was being borne by the government in Punjab as free power was being provided to farmers to extract groundwater,” the report observed. It stated that the cost of irrigation, included in the cost of cultivation, was passed to the farmers through minimum support price, without it being incurred by them.
“Thus, power subsidy not only burdened the state exchequer, but also became one of the reasons for groundwater depletion, besides coming out to be one of the major deterrent factors for diversification of crops other than paddy. This meant, Punjab was using most of its water to fulfil the food security needs of the nation.”
“The audit is of the opinion that providing free electricity to the agriculture sector in March 1997 and on the other hand, imposing water charges on the usage of canal water provided an impetus to the users for shifting to tubewell irrigation, resulting in unchecked withdrawal of groundwater, besides putting the burden of power subsidy on the state exchequer.”
The audit analysis of the production of rice by top 15 rice growing states in the country vis-a-vis their contribution to the central pool during 2015-16 disclosed that Punjab was contributing maximum rice to the central pool, though it falls at the third place in production of rice after West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
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