Water is one of the main constituents, along with air, for life to sustain on Earth. 97.5 percent of the water available on earth constitutes salt water and only 2.5 percent is fresh water. 70 percent of this fresh water is in the form of polar ice-caps. The remaining minuscule 30 percent (0.75 percent of the total) is readily available to human beings.
This 30 percent water is available from the ’water-table’ or aquifers. The level at and below which the underground water is found is referred to as the water-table. Rain water contributes to the water table, immensely. Also, run-off from lakes, streams, ponds and even ice-caps helps in replenishing this water.
Punjab has 1.5 percent of the country’s land but its output of rice and wheat accounts for 50 percent of the grain requirement of India. It’s due to this that Punjab is known as the food bowl of the country. With the population explosion, there are more stomachs to be fed which directly leads to the requirement of more land for cultivation. Statistics back this up. Over the past four decades, the area under cultivation has increased manifold, i.e 1.21 lakh hectares. The area under wheat cultivation has increased from 33.75 lakh hectares, in 2002-03, to 34.88 lakh hectares, in 2007-08, showing an increase of 3.4 percent.
The Green revolution of the 1970′s made us self-sufficient and our economy showed an upward trend, at that time. However, with time, due to the bad policies of the government, both Central and state, and also due to the vagaries of the monsoon, the positive effects of the green revolution era withered away. Sample this – the Punjab Directorate of Water Resources, the watchdog for the three zones of the state- Moga, Doaba and Malwa- states that, out of a total of 551 sites, 325 have shown a fall in the water table, from June 2008 to June 2009. There is a huge demand/availability crunch. 4.40 million hectare metres (mhm) is the demand, whereas 3.23 mhm is the availability, resulting in a whopping 1.27 mhm deficit.
The policies of the state government have been awfully bad, over the years, with the populist measures of: free electricity and connections for tube wells being distributed to all and sundry. There were 1.2 lakh tube wells in 1970, as compared to 12.32 lakh in 2009. The result – overdrawing of ground water, especially during the rice plantation season. 4.5 lakh pumps have come up in Punjab and the situation has gone from bad to worse: with the replacing of centrifugal pumps with submersible ones. Digging has gone down to 450 feet, though rain water can recharge only upto 80-90 feet.
Not enough being done:
In August 2004, based on satellite pictures, NASA scientists predicted grave concerns and a severe shortage of potable water in the state of Punjab, over the next 15 years. Alarm bells first rang in 2007, by the Union Water Resources Ministry, which asked the Punjab government to address the crisis of the water table, through legislation.
With global warming being acknowledged as an acute problem worldwide, new technologies are required for Indian agriculture, which is largely dependent on the rains.
The paddy crop requires lots of water to grow. Thus, during the paddy season, rainwater must be used judiciously and effectively via canals. Seasonal monsoon waters must be conserved and channelised properly.
Diversification is the need of the hour, in Punjab. It will benefit both the state and the farmers. While rice and wheat production has shown a remarkable increase, the production of millets and legumes has sadly been lagging far behind. Diversification will aid in increasing production, as the available resources will be used optimally.
We, the people, should use water judiciously. It sounds as no brainer but the water crisis is such a serious problem that it cannot be brushed under the carpet and each one of us must conserve water, as much as we can. We must make ourselves accountable for every drop of water that we use.
Finally, a comprehensive and holistic plan is required to be implemented in the next decade or so. Both the state and the Centre must pitch in with their policies to revive the water table, and work towards achieving it.
Punjab is heading towards becoming an arid desert. The sooner we act, the better it will be. Else, our future generations will be left with only one thing to say- ‘Where is the water?’
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