Agriculture

Paddy or no paddy: Quest for equilibrium between water, livelihood in Haryana

Paddy is not suitable for Haryana and to sustain its water resources and to agrarian livelihood in the long term, according to a water productivity report

 
By Partik Kumar
Published: Monday 18 May 2020
Paddy is among the most water-intensive crops in the country, according to a water productivity report Photo: Pexels

The Haryana government restricted the cultivation of paddy in the blocks where there is severe water scarcity, in a recent decision. Under its crop diversification program, the government decided to shift one lakh hectare of paddy sowing area for other crops, primarily maize.

The notification stated that eight blocks across the state — classified as dark zones based on groundwater development stage and where paddy is a major crop — will be covered under Mera Pani Meri Virasat, a new scheme from the Haryana government.

Farmers in these blocks need to diversify their crops equivalent to at least half of their crops in the last kharif season (2019-20). Last year, a total of 179,951 hectares of land was under paddy cultivation.

Additionally, farmers will not be permitted to cultivate paddy in new areas where paddy was not grown in the last year. All farmers who operate tube wells using a 50 horse power electric motor will also not be allowed to grow paddy.

Farmers will not be eligible for availing any subsidy from the state’s agriculture and farmers welfare department if they do not adhere to these guidelines. Paddy will not be procured by the state government’s agencies from such farmers as well.

The government also announced incentives for farmers covered under this scheme. They will be provided Rs 17,500 per hectare (inclusive of crop insurance under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana), if they diversify and move from paddy to other crops. All diversified crops — including maize, bajra and pulses — will be procured by the government at minimum support price (MSP).

Also, in agricultural lands in blocks where the groundwater level is 35 metres, the Gram Panchayat will not permit paddy to grow in their lands. Applicable financial benefits for diversification from paddy to other alternate crops will be provided to the respective panchayat.

The decision received mix reactions from different stakeholders. The opposition Indian National Congress (INC) in a press release said the decision was a “tuglaqi farman (dictatorial)”.

The party raised the question of the timing of scheme. “At a time when farmers are struggling to mitigate their farm income amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, the government is pushing them towards complete livelihood devastation in a planned conspiracy,” said Randeep Singh Surjewala, the party’s spokesperson.

Ramandeep Mann, an agriculture policy expert, raised his concern over the government’s assurance of monetary assistance and maize procurement at MSP.

“Government had also brought a similar crop diversification program last year to conserve water and promised financial assistance of Rs 5,000 per hectare and maize procurement at MSP covering an area of approximately 55,440 hectares, but this did not see the light of day,” he said.

List of district / block wise area for replacement of paddy by alternative crops
Serial No District Block Groundwater level in June 2019 (in m) Area Under paddy (in ha)
1 Fatehbad Ratia 41.60 41,136
2 Kaithal Siwan 49.88 10,678
3 Kaithal Guhla 41.38 41,259
4 Kurukshetra Pipli 42.82 12,854
5 Kurukshetra Shadbad 45.38 18,950
6 Kurukshetra Babain 42.04 8,327
7 Kurukshetra Ismailabad 45.16 16,246
8 Sirsa Sirsa 47.43 30,501
 Total

 

 

 

179,951

Source: Agriculture Department, Haryana

The state of water resources

The stage of groundwater development in Haryana is 137 per cent — against every 100 units of recharge, extraction is 137 units — according to the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB).

Haryana was declared overexploited, in terms of groundwater extraction, according to the report. Groundwater is the backbone of Haryana, with 95 per cent of drinking water and 61 per cent of irrigation needs met through this, according to the CGWB data.

From 1974 to 2018, on a state average, groundwater level is deepened by 34 feet with variations as high as 121 feet in Badhra block in the south-west part of the state.

More than half of the state is in the dark zone in terms of groundwater development. Out of the state’s 128 blocks, 102 or 80 per cent are overexploited, critical or semi-critical. From 2013 to 2018, the number of critical blocks increased from 64 to 78.

A few recent scientific studies suggest heavy metal contamination in deeper aquifers of the state. Excessive use, as well as exclusive dependency on groundwater resources, is the primary reason behind its alarming condition in the state.

Paddy is among the most water-intensive crops in the country, according to a water productivity report by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development released in 2018.

The irrigation requirement of paddy as a unit and in total is the most compared to other crops grown in the country. Irrigation water productivity — that is production of paddy per unit of irrigation applied — in Haryana is the lowest in the country, which is the primary reason for the state’s groundwater depletion, according to the report.

The state produces 0.22 kg of paddy using 1000 litres of irrigation water. The primary reason for low IWP is limited or no use of micro-irrigation and cultivation of paddy in less favourable agro-climatic conditions.

On the contrary, the highest economic water productivity (EWP) — that is, income per unit of total consumptive water use — of paddy is in Haryana.

The earning of states that use 1,000 litres of water is Rs 12.39. The reason behind the high EWP is high productivity, less water and electricity charges and high farm harvest price declared by the government.

Hydrologically, paddy is not suitable for Haryana and to sustain its water resources and to agrarian livelihood in the long term, said the report. It is a must to replace paddy with a less water-intensive crop, keeping the economic interest of farming communities in consideration, the report added.

Historical agricultural data suggest rice was not a primary crop in Haryana. In 1966-67, rice was cultivated on 192,000 hectares, which was 6 per cent of that year’s net area sown (NAS) in the state.

In 2017-18, rice was sown on 1,422,000 hectares, accounting for 41 per cent of that year’s NAS. On the other hand, pulses covered 34 per cent of NAS in 1966-67 and were reduced to merely 2 per cent in 2017-18.

Much-needed transition

Maize is a better option than paddy from the point of view of water requirement. Paddy needs approximately 1,250 mm of water, while maize needs 500 mm of water in a complete cropping cycle. Maize can save up to 60 per cent of water consumption.

When this transition is seen through the lens of income, however, it does not make it viable for cultivators.

The income from per hectare of paddy cultivation is Rs 102,345, compared to Rs 26,250, according to the Economics of Farming in Haryana report from 2015-16.

Paddy cultivation gives almost four-time income, compared to maize, with this enormous gap in income making the choice of transition for a farmer unlikely. The current scheme of the Haryana government tried to merge this gap by giving a financial incentive of Rs 17,500 per hectare as well as MSP support to maize.

The financial assistance, as well as MSP, will certainly try to narrow down the gap in income but it will be quite difficult to merge it completely at the current rate of assistance.

Scientific literature suggests depletion of groundwater is not only because of high water-intensive crops but also because of poor irrigation techniques.

The track record of the Haryana government in the promotion of micro-irrigation is behind its targets.

The target for additional coverage under sprinkler system was 20,000 hectares, but it achieved only 41 per cent of it, that is 8,152 hectares, according to the Economic survey of Haryana for 2018-19.

The same was seen in the case of drip irrigation: The target was 2,000 hectares and actual coverage was only 37 per cent of it, that is 743 hectares.

Also, few of the target districts of this scheme were covered under the Dadupur-Nalvi irrigation scheme to artificially recharge groundwater in the region.

The irrigation scheme was called off by the government in 2018 after spending Rs 303 crore in the past 30 years. The government said the scheme was unfruitful, unviable and ineffective. After this, the government failed to provide an alternative to this scheme and any scheme to recharge groundwater in the region.

Conclusion

“Farmers don’t trust government because the current regime has a bad track record of fulfilling such promises,” said Mahender Singh, a local journalist.

“If it again fails to amplify its deliverables than it could be two-way implications. One, farmers will be in huge loss and later farmers will lose the confidence on any such transition for a larger good,” he added.

Data suggests the alarming situation of groundwater in Haryana needed urgent attention and transition in its utility is a must at this point of time.

Paddy doesn’t seem to be a viable option in the region from the natural resources sustainability point of view, but at the same time, the livelihood of millions of farming is also at stake.

It is well established historically, that paddy cultivation in the region was solely promoted and assisted by the state and the Union government to make the country food secure in the light of Green revolution.

Now, it is the responsibility of the government to completely assist farming families in this reverse or upward transition.

The government should equally promote demand and supply measures to tackle the water crisis in the region.

First, the state government should order stating the complete procurement of maize at MSP. Second, the amount of assistance should be increased to merge the income gap between the transitional crop.

Third, the government should promote measures to increase irrigation efficiency more effectively. Fourth, the alternate water sources should be planned as well as conjunctive use should be promoted.

Fifth, the measure for groundwater recharge through addition supply by canals as well as rainwater harvesting and restoration of local water bodies should be taken. Lastly, the government should promote the participatory groundwater governance in the region through the involvement of the user’s group in planning as well as management

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