When you think of Punjab, you tend to draw a bucolic frame of flowing rivers, vast stretches of agricultural land and prosperous farmers.
The reality is different: the state is struggling to get irrigation water, and its farmers are caught in a vicious wheat-paddy cycle, resulting in a severe loss of groundwater.
The agricultural costs have spiraled and a large number of farmers are caught in a debt-trap. And all these miseries are due to loss of water. Experts from the Central Ground Water Board have pointed to the massive rate of fall in subsoil water by 51 cm per year.
There’s some hope, though.
“A few years back, I had to run my electric tubewell for five hours to irrigate one-acre land. But now it takes around three hours to irrigate crops on one acre. This is because now I have changed the system of ferrying irrigation water from open channels (drains) to underground pipes in the fields,” says Surjit Singh (45), a farmer from Rurka Kalan village in Jalandhar.
Punjab now has a network of 20,000 km of Underground Pipeline System (UGPS). It covers two lakh tubewells in 5.13 lakh hectares, reaching more than 2.50 lakh farmers. The result is that not only a lot of water is saved but the annual power bill has also gone down by Rs 637 crore. The net beneficiary is the farmer.
“Under UGPS, 15-25% water, 15-20% power and the proportionate labour is saved. As UGPS replaces the open, ‘kacha’ channels in the fields, about 1% of the total land is also saved which can be brought under cultivation,” says Chief Conservator Soil and Water Conservation, Dharminder Sharma.
He says given the alarming water table situation, there is a need to scale up the implementation of the programme in the next ten years. With 95% of the cultivated area already under irrigation with water-guzzling paddy in about 60% of the area, the potential of promoting UGPS is more in the non-paddy growing area of 15.53 lakh hectares falling in Faridkot, Hoshiarpur, Muktsar, Bathinda and Mansa districts.
“As the south-western districts have large areas under plantation, there is a large potential not only for increasing the area under fruit crops but also vegetables by using UGPS,’’ said Sharma. He says there is potential as well as a need of covering cotton-growing areas under UGPS in view of sandy and porous soils, limited surface water resources and brackish underground water.
“The northern Kandi belt has small landholdings which can be turned into food baskets by using UGPS. There is also a potential of growing vegetables in this area. Central Punjab has the highest potential for adopting UGPS due to steepest fall in groundwater level.’’
The need for UGPS and other innovative water conservation techniques has become even more relevant: more than 70% of the area meets its irrigation demand from underground water.
The number of tubewells has gone up to 15 lakh.
“By laying underground pipes for irrigation in which 90% subsidy is given to a group of farmers and 50% to individual farmers, it also helps in improving the production as well as socio-economic uplift of the farmers,’’ says Sharma.
Manjit Singh, sarpanch of Kanakwal Bhanguan village Sangrur district has 40-acre land. There are 1,200 farmers in his village with around 2,500 acres of land. Some years back, Manjit’s village did not get water from the canal as the village is far from it. The open water channels (khals) were often broken, so there were massive leakages.
“Today, these underground pipes running across 5 km have brought water to our village, so we don’t need tubewell water, which is used partially for paddy cultivation,” said Manjit.
20,000 km pipelines
Punjab has a network of 20,000 km of Underground Pipeline System (UGPS). It covers two lakh tubewells in 5.13 lakh hectares reaching over 2.50 lakh farmers. The annual power bill has gone down by Rs 637 crore.
As UGPS replaces the open channels, about 1% of the total land is also saved which can be brought under cultivation Dharminder Sharma, chief conservator, soil and water conservation.