Will diesel subsidy help farmers tide over drought?

 
By Richard Mahapatra
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

National Rainfed Area Authority reports excessive withdrawal of ground water; many farmers have abandoned their crops

The first decision of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) that met to take stock of the current drought was to declare a diesel subsidy for farmers. Those who have been monitoring India's drought management will know this is the first crisis ritual. This is to save the standing crops, which would otherwise be lost due to water scarcity. But the question, as during earlier droughts, is: does diesel subsidy help? The question is often asked for the simple reason that more than 60 per cent of India's cultivable lands are rainfed. So, who is the subsidy meant for? The answer, as already known from earlier experiences, is that diesel subsidy gives maximum political mileage and least relief.

First, what the government offers. Like in previous years, the subsidy is for farmers who operate diesel pumps (remember, this is the argument for overall diesel subsidy in the country and government has abandoned the much talked about subsidy cut in recent weeks due to the drought). The subsidy will be shared by the Central and state governments equally. It is only for areas where rains have been 50 per cent below average up to July 15. The scheme will continue till September. But usually there is a ceiling on how much an individual farmer can avail and for how much area. Though details are still not available, the subsidy may be around Rs 1,500 for each farmer and for up to two hectares of land.

Conditions apply

The subsidy is subject to a few conditions: a) rainfall must be below 50 per cent by mid-July; b) a farmer must have an operational diesel pump using a groundwater source; c) subsidy amount and the land area should be within a limit.

These conditions make this highly visible government step redundant or say just beneficial to a small group of farmers. Going by the first condition of rainfall, currently farmers in severely impacted states like Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Gujarat will be benefited. Some 94 out of total 627 districts will qualify for this. But except for Punjab and Haryana, most of the farmers in majority of the districts in other states depend on rain for irrigation. About 80 per cent of horticulture-based livelihoods and 100 per cent of forest produce are rainfed in these areas. Less than six per cent of total diesel consumption in the country is used for irrigation.

So, the subsidy is meant for well-endowed farmers. However, this is not to discount the loss such farmers sustain. The third condition, practically meant for relatively big farmers in terms of landholding in Haryana and Punjab, is highly limiting. Given the scale of loss of standing crops, the monetary limit will hardly rescue farmers. The crops division of the agriculture ministry has already hinted that the diesel subsidy will only help Punjab and Haryana to some extent.

According to advisory note of the National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) issued in last week of July, the subsidy will not help much even in irrigated areas given the severity of the drought. In the last 60 days of monsoon (June and July), above normal rainfall was received only on eight days, normal rainfall was received on five days and there was rain deficit on 46 days. It means most of the severely impacted areas continue to have substantial rain deficit. As a coping mechanism, there has been excessive withdrawal of ground water, according to the NRAA leading to “lowering of submersible pump by three to four metres, replacement of low horse power motors with higher horse power motors and excessive consumption of electricity/diesels oil is being reported from North-West India”.

Farmers, thus, have already invested significantly on saving their crops in irrigated areas. Many have abandoned their crops. “Shortfall in sown area and poor condition of already seeded/planted crops suggest agricultural drought in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan. The assured irrigated areas are being afflicted with high cost of pumping ground water and retrofitting,” observes NRAA. The diesel subsidy will hardly rescue them from this.

Rather, the subsidy will further worsen the situation due to further uses of groundwater without any water recharge in the near future. “It is also likely that there may be excessive depletion of ground water and its recharging during high rainfall events in the current year and subsequent years should also be put in place to restore excessive depletion of groundwater,” says NRAA.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.

  • The situation of drought and

    The situation of drought and its consequences on the food production by the farmers has become every year challenge and attracts for temporary solutions with subsidy or loan or price tag. Though the diesel subsidy is well linked with the droughts, as the subsidy helps to over exploit the groundwater. It means this subsidy causes for pollution and drying up of groundwater. Under theses circumstances, there is an urgent need to look for alternative source of energy. Solar based power generation has got advantages with vast potentiality. It is advisable to change the pumps with solar based pumps so that farmers can become independent with better utility of land and water resources. Care has to be taken to control the better utility of groundwater resources at both enhancing and exploitation.

    Let us commit for the use of solar based power products for the health of the people,and environment with higher production and further to assure for better FOOD SECURITY.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • YES, the diesel subsidy help

    YES, the diesel subsidy help farmers tide over drought subject to conditions that a) rainfall must be below 50 per cent by mid-July; b) a farmer must have an operational diesel pump using a groundwater source; c) subsidy amount and the land area should be within a limit. As a policy it looks very good but very difficult at the stage of implementation and monitoring.

    Framers needs power for various purposes like: use of tractors, water motors,machinery for harvesting,infrastructure for storage, processing mills,and other such uses covering production, harvesting, storing, and processing. Certainly, farmers needs power on assured basis either it is current based or diesel based. In view of the present crises of Power and Oils,and its consequences on the health and wealth of the people as well as the environment, farmers are facing several challenges which have resulted for less production or crop holidays. Under these circumstance, the proposed target of achieving FOOD SECURITY still stands as a dream.

    It there any option to change the source of power generation instead of Diesel based? Yes we, have got better option to utilize the natural source of energy to generate power for supporting the farmers for better production. Use of SOLAR energy has been proved as an alternative for the farmers to use for pumping water,and running other machinery. The policy in this direction is assured with subsidy. This type of power works for the better health and wealth of the people and environment. It only needs concern and commitment by the farmers with the assured support for development, implementation and monitoring. At the same time it is the fact that the initial cost of solar machinery is comparatively high which can be compensated with its long term advantages. Solar energy is our dream, and hope to cater the power needs of the people at all levels. Better transformation ways of technologies from LAB to LAND can effectively control the cost with better efficiency.

    Let us hope to use the SOLAR ENERGY to support the farmers in reaching the food security and for the sustainable development of the Nation.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply