To save groundwater, a House group proposes prepaid power cards.
OBSERVING THAT the primary reason for excessive groundwater exploitation is widespread cultivation of water-guzzling paddy and sugarcane crops, which are “heavily incentivized,” a Parliamentary Standing Committee has stated that the use of electric pumps should be discouraged further by instituting measures such as pre-paid cards for power supply and limiting power supply to a few hours per day.
The committee has recommended that the Jal Shakti Ministry’s Department of Water Resources, River Development, and Ganga Rejuvenation take the lead by urging both the Power Ministry and the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, as well as state governments, to take action along the lines suggested.
The Standing Committee on Water Resources stated in its report, “Groundwater: A Valuable but Depleting Resource,” which was tabled in Parliament on Monday, that “states like Punjab, Haryana, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu offer completely free power, while other states have provision for collection of token charges.”
According to the report, while limiting free electricity to farmers will undoubtedly reduce groundwater misuse, both the Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare “have expressed inability to persuade states to reduce/stop subsidy for power given in agriculture as electricity is a concurrent subject and SERCs determine the electricity tariff for retail.”
“However, the Committee notes that Punjab implemented a plan in which farmers were refunded money if they used less electricity. They also mention that “under the Deendayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana of the Ministry of Power, separate components of agriculture and non-agriculture feeders have been created to facilitate judicious rostering of supply to agriculture and non-agriculture consumers in rural areas,” according to the report.
“Yet, groundwater is still being used extensively to meet irrigation demands. As a result, the Committee believes that using electric pumps should be discouraged further by implementing measures such as introducing pre-paid cards for power supply, limiting it to a few hours per day, and so on,” it stated.
The committee, chaired by BJP member Parbatbhai Savabhai Patel, also asked the government to develop “integrated solutions” for agricultural use to lessen reliance on groundwater.
“The Committee notice that over-extraction of groundwater for meeting irrigation needs is prevalent largely in northern states, particularly in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, which are draining 97%, 90% and 86% of groundwater, respectively, for this purpose. Other states, such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh, are also big users of groundwater for irrigation, accounting for around 89%, 92%, and 90% of total groundwater extraction, respectively, according to the research.
“The main reason for such over-exploitation of groundwater is widespread cultivation of water-guzzling paddy and sugarcane crops, which are heavily incentivized by highly subsidised pricing of water, power, and fertilisers on the one hand and assured markets for their outputs through procurement of rice in the Punjab-Haryana belt and of sugarcane by sugar factories at government determined prices,” according to the report.
The committee stated that progress in reducing groundwater consumption has been “modest.”
“As a result, the Committee recommends developing integrated solutions for adoption in agriculture to reduce reliance on groundwater in agriculture,” according to the report.
The group also stated that a shift in focus from ‘land productivity’ to ‘water productivity’ is required.
“The Committee would, therefore, propose the Ministry of Jal Shakti to work out a policy to guarantee judicious water use to lessen dependence on groundwater and reduce its imprint in agriculture. In this regard, the Committee would like to emphasise that, in addition to land productivity, water productivity, i.e. production per cubic metre of water, should be a major criterion in crop production decisions,” stated the report, adding that the Ministry of Jal Shakti should collaborate with the Agriculture Ministry to enable the formulation of appropriate crop production policy decisions in the country.