"Free electricity spurs water wastage"

HAZI SAHEB KHAN from Ghagas village in Haryana's Gurgaon district speaks with remarkable clarity on complex issues related to water. Just back from a visit to Gujarat, this 58-year old farmer is visibly impressed with the irrigation system he saw there. VIKAS PARASHAR caught up with him

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

What do you produce in your fields?
Mustard and pulses.

Why mustard?
We don't have enough water to produce rice. Mustard takes less water and gives handsome profit in five months.

Is water very valuable in your area?
Look, if a one-litre bottle of water costs Rs 10 while milk in my village sells for Rs 8 a litre, then water is definitely valuable. A few years back, I felt somewhat astounded when people talked about water wars. But now such conflicts are becoming common in our country, since water is getting scarcer by the day. So farmers need to conserve it in their fields.

How does water get wasted in fields?
Farmers just switch on their water pumping motors and leave it running for hours. They keep very little account of how much water is consumed and how much of it is wasted. The reason: the annual electricity charge is fixed. In my village, one has to pay Rs 500 for five-kilowatt (kw) motor and Rs 750 for a seven-kw motor; one need not pay extra money for running the motor for hours. So, lots of groundwater is wasted and eventually the water table plummets. In my village, one could find water at 22 feet some ten tears back, but now I am not sure if we can get it even at 80 feet. I am just back from a tour of Gujarat. After seeing the irrigation technologies there, I have realised that there is another reason for the declining water table in my village.

What's that?
Our farmlands are of uneven height and our present method of irrigation makes the lower tracts get a surfeit of water, while the ones at higher levels go without it. In Gujarat, I saw the fountain system or a drip method of irrigation; here the whole land is watered simultaneously and water is not wasted.

How exactly does this system work?
There is a water tank on a height around ten feet and water is taken to the fields from that tank using pipes. We can fill up this water body by running an engine for two hours only and can irrigate different parts of our fields by drips. That saves both money and electricity.

So, there are new technologies in agriculture today?
Not at all, technology has developed for cars but not agriculture. We still use the same Field Marshal diesel engines that were in vogue 50 years back. The cost of diesel has increased from 50 paise to Rs 25, all this while. But running this engine for two hours still means two litres of diesel consumed -- same as 50 years back.

Constructing tanks to drip-irrigate large tracts of land would require money?
Yes, but farmers must look at it as an investment that increases their earnings. If agriculturists can borrow money for purchasing high quality seeds and fertilisers, they can surely invest in such tanks. After all, it is profitable. Besides, banks give loans for such activities.

Is the government helping these activities in your area?
I don't want to waste time by talking about the government. Its work ends on papers only; farmers don't benefit from it. Recently, truck drivers went on a nationwide strike and got their demands accepted. But can one imagine similar moves by farmers succeeding.

But some states do give free electricity to farmers?
That is not doing any good to them. Free electricity spurs water wastage. If I do not have to pay an electricity charge, I would run tube wells for an hour to even clean my buffalo. But will the government manufacture water for us, once all groundwater is over?

How would you conserve water?
I will practice Gujarat-like farming in my fields and will implement the drip and fountain irrigation system. The other thing I am very enthusiastic about is a cheeku ka baag (sapota orchards). It conserves water, requires less money and is very profitable.

How?
A sapota plant can would give you fruits for the next thirty years. And it takes very less water, so the input costs would also come down. It would also fulfill one of the goals that we have in our slogan, 'gaon ka pani goan main, khait ka paani khait main aur ghar ka paani ghar main'. It means water should be conserved at three levels: at the village, in fields and in households. At the village level we are trying to conserve it by making check dams. And at the household level, we are making saufitas (small tanks to conserve water). And I just told you about our efforts at the field-level.

How will you persuade your co-villagers to follow this system in their fields?
I will try setting a personal example. And I am sure everybody would follow me, once it is proved profitable.

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