Limiting paddy cultivation by a Punjab farmer to a maximum of four hectares, sourcing milk and eggs for mid-day meal scheme, cutting down on agricultural power subsidy for big farmers and setting up of a crop compensation fund for failed crops are among the measures that Punjab State Farmers Commission (PSFC) has suggested for reinvigorating agriculture in the State.
These recommendations are part of a first-of-its-kind policy for farmers in the State that the commission has been drafting for some time.
Even though the first draft of the report was ready nearly a year ago, the State government hasn’t accepted it yet as it fears that some measures suggested in the draft policy may antagonise the farmers, a powerful bloc in the State. But about three weeks ago, the government showed some willingness to scrutinise the contents of the 15-page document and a Cabinet sub-committee was constituted for the same.
One of the sensitive issues that the draft has dealt with is power subsidy for agricultural pumpsets. The draft has recommended cutting down power subsidy to big farmers (those with more than 4 hectares of land) to 33 per cent, which can be increased to 66 per cent, if the farmer adopts micro irrigation.
Excessive groundwater drawal for agriculture has been a major issue in Punjab. In 2016, 85 per cent blocks in the State were found to be overexploited/critical as against 53 per cent in 1984. Besides, excessive use of fertiliser has been causing water pollution, while the excessive use of water was leading to soil degradation.
It also called for drafting a water policy that promotes and regulates conjunctive and optimum use of surface and groundwater as well as a seed policy to ensure proper certification of seeds sold in the State.
The commission suggested setting up of a crop compensation fund that can provide farmers a compensation of ₹12,000/acre in case of 100 per cent loss of crop. The premium for the scheme can be collected from purchase of agricultural commodities by government agencies, it said.
“This draft farmers’ policy is a unique one. It is not an agricultural policy like that some other States have come out with. It puts farmers at the front. Nowhere in the policy we are talking of increasing agricultural production, but talks about improving the lot of farmers and others like landless labourers who depend on agriculture for a living,” said Ajay Vir Jakhar, the PSFC Chairperson.
Punjab may have been struggling to maintain high level of farm productivity that it had witnessed in the heydays of the Green Revolution due to loss of soil fertility and dwindling groundwater table, but though the State has only 1.5 per cent of the country’s cropped area, it accounts for 17 per cent wheat and 12 per cent rice produced in the country. The fact that almost 99 per cent of its area is irrigated helped it achieve the highest cropping intensity (192 per cent) in the country.
Though the Amarinder Singh government has not accepted the draft yet, it has implemented some of the recommendations. For instance, the government has already made it possible for farmers to lay water pipes underneath the field owned by other farmers.
“Earlier the farmers had to take the pipe around the other farms, which cost a lot more money,” said Jakhar. Similarly, the government has given the nod for regional cooperative banks to merge with one another, which was not possible earlier, he said.
“Many such policies are being implemented without being declared them as policies,” Jakhar added.