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Posted at: Jun 13, 2018, 12:24 AM; last updated: Jun 13, 2018, 12:24 AM (IST)

Uprooting sown paddy

Risky solution to Punjab’s thirsty fields
Uprooting sown paddy

The petering out of the 10-day “Gaon Bandh” did not leave Punjab’s kisan unions without a cause. They are now resisting Punjab agriculture department’s efforts to plough the fields of farmers who had defied a government order to transplant paddy to arrest what is the world’s fastest rate of groundwater decline. The unions fully understand the effect of early sowing of paddy on the ground water table. But they have earned the farmer’s sympathy because coercion is no answer to the mix of economic, geographic and political factors that inform their decision to persist with water-guzzling crops, pushing nearly 70 per cent of the state’s blocks in the “dark zone”.

The defiance is thankfully still sporadic despite the fuel provided by Union Minister Harsimrat Badal’s homily to the state government not to impose restrictions on the farmers, overlooking similar advisories when her party was in power. Other departments have also added their shoulder to discouraging farmers from sowing paddy by cutting off power to the tubewells. But the government needs to be questioned on its unpreparedness when the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) had raised the flag as early as in January. And these spasmodic measures need the undergirding of an official paddy-sowing date under the Punjab Preservation of Sub-Soil Water Act, 2009.

A change in the revenue balance and the incentive structure away from highly water-dependent crops is a time-consuming and nationwide affair. The present defiance in Moga and Sangrur may well peter out. But both the state and the kisan unions need to push the concept of direct sowing and new varieties of paddy. Both reap faster making the postponement in sowing a non-issue. The government’s forcible ploughing of sown fields could create bad blood, especially if it is tardy in honouring the other aspects of its social contract such as regular and affordable supply of inputs. A major outreach programe for direct sowing of paddy under the Hooda government in Haryana had come a cropper. That, however, should have led to the ironing out of its flaws and its replication in both Haryana and Punjab. 


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