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  Business   Punjab warned about groundwater level

Punjab warned about groundwater level

REUTERS
Published : Oct 18, 2016, 2:46 am IST
Updated : Oct 18, 2016, 2:46 am IST

It is hailed as India’s granary, but Punjab faces a drastic decline in agricultural output unless it halts the rapid depletion of its groundwater, experts warn.

18FARM.jpg
 18FARM.jpg

It is hailed as India’s granary, but Punjab faces a drastic decline in agricultural output unless it halts the rapid depletion of its groundwater, experts warn.

Groundwater irrigates almost three-quarters of Punjab’s agricultural land, but groundwater levels are dropping by 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 inches) a year, according to Rajan Aggarwal, head of the soil and water engineering department at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU).

That has left farmers like Ajmir Singh struggling as their irrigation wells dry up. “We are not able to find water even if we go down to 200 feet (61 m) or more at some places,” said Singh, who has farmed for 35 years in Jalandhar, 150km (95 miles) north of Chandigarh.

His neighbour, Pawanjeet Singh, said lack of irrigation water has forced him to sell part of the land that has been in his family for generations to a large-scale farmer who has the resources to drill for water at much deeper levels.

“I took this decision with a heavy heart after I realised that drawing water for all my land is beyond my means,” Singh said.

According to Aggarwal, groundwater has been overexploited in 110 of the state’s 138 administrative blocks. “This is alarming given that more than 73 percent of irrigation is taken care of by groundwater,” he said.

Experts say dealing with the problem, in the region that led India’s Green Revolution in the 1970s, will require a rapid shift away from crops that require large amounts of water, such as rice and wheat, to less-thirsty pulses, maize, vegetables and sugarcane to safeguard the state's agricultural economy.

Rice and wheat make up 81 percent of Punjab's irrigated crops, according to a report by PAU. Although the state accounts for only 1.5 percent of India’s geographical area, over the past two decades it has contributed 35 percent of the nation’s rice production and 60 cent of its wheat.

According to Sunil Jain, regional director of the Central Ground Water Board for northwest India, groundwater started dropping in 1985 in Punjab, and has sunk to alarming levels in recent years.

Location: India, Chandigarh