The Government of Punjab has allocated Rs. 14,370 crore to its Agriculture sector in its 2018-19 budget, a move which might provide a sigh of relief to the otherwise deeply distressed farmers of the state. The budgetary allocation meant for the State’s agrarian economy this fiscal is a 40% hike compared to Rs. 10, 541 crore for 2017-18. In fact, Punjab has been witnessing a steady rise in its budgetary allocation for Agriculture since the Congress Government took over in 2017, with a hike of 66% over the last budget of the SAD-BJP government, and a total hike of 131% so far as the state’s budgetary allocation for agriculture is concerned.
And not only has the Punjab Government taken cognizance of the hardships faced by the ‘Anndata’ (farmer) but has also given due recognition to the allied activities including horticulture, floriculture, dairy development, piggery, goat rearing and cattle-feed, among others. The Capt. Amarinder Singh led Punjab Government has also dedicated Rs. 4, 250 crore as debt waiver which might provide a breather to the indebted farmers, while allocating Rs. 6, 256 crore in the budget meant for providing free power to the agricultural sector.
But Punjab is facing deeper crisis
While these measures are indeed a step in the right direction, the question remains whether a mere hike in budgetary allocation for Agriculture would actually relieve the distressed farmers. Punjab, a State which has been serving as the food basket of India has for long been plagued by a number of agrarian issues attributed mostly to the ‘Green Revolution’. In an recent article published in the Economic & Political Weekly authored by Amarjit S Bhullar, the writer thoroughly dissects the agrarian crisis of Punjab, while highlighting as to how it was aggravated by the ‘Green Revolution’.
Punjab also known as the “heartland of the green revolution”, has dedicated 82% of its total land area to agriculture. With, 39% of its working population engaged in agriculture, the state contributes nearly 12% to the national food grain production. While, the agricultural contribution of the state might seem impressive, its farmers have been facing their fair share of farming crisis. Mr. Bhullar points out in his writing that ignoring basic research, hurried implementation of green revolution, and hierarchical domination in research and policy formulation led to the agrarian crisis in Punjab.
What ails agriculture in Punjab
The much hyped green revolution, although contributed immensely towards helping India overcome the chronic food shortage that it faced during the 1960’s, it also had underlying negative implications. In this sense, Punjab played the perfect ‘guinea pig’ for green revolution attributing to its geographical location as well as natural resources. Post green revolution, Punjab witnessed a major surge in wheat and rice production, but over a period of time, the granary of India ended up exhausting most of its resources. This north-Indian state shifted to a monoculture cropping practice of wheat and rice declining diversity in its cropping pattern. Both wheat and rice required large amounts of water and they were soil nutrient exhaustive crops, leaving the water and soil resources overstressed.
The current crop production pattern dominated by wheat–rice crop rotation requires 6.15 million-hectare metre (mham) per annum of irrigation water per annum. But, there is a gap of 2.49 mham between demand and supply of water. The over-exploitation of groundwater in the last three and half decades has wreaked havoc on the groundwater resources of the state.
Mr. Bhullar also mentions that intensive and unplanned agriculture is considered to have seriously eroded the fertility levels of the soil in Punjab. Wheat and rice are the most nutrient exhaustive crops of the state removing 80% of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, 80% of sulphur, and 77% of zinc, of the total removal of nutrients per year, leading to some serious soil degradation.
Declining crop prices, increasing costs, depleting natural resources such as water and a fertile soil and consequentially burgeoning debt is leaving the farmers of the State in utter state of despair. While the progressive move of annually increasing the budgetary allocation for agriculture by the Punjab Government will act as a morale booster for the farmers, what remains to be seen is whether it will actually serve the purpose of resolving all the agrarian issues of the state.