It is well known fact that many States, especially the Green Revolution ones (Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in north India), have been suffering some of its adverse implications for sometime now — in terms of seasonal mono-cropping of wheat and paddy in the rabi and kharif seasons; depletion of groundwater and stagnant farmer incomes. This was the consequence of Minimum Support Price-based procurement regime where most of these States’ grains were procured by the State agencies even when they did not need to buy so much — driven as it were by political compulsions.

Haryana grows paddy in 12.8 lakh hectares, which includes basmati. Out of 68 lakh tonnes paddy produced in the State, 43 lakh tonnes was procured by the government in 2019-20 — more or less equal to the level in the last three years, at around 40 lakh tonnes.

As power for irrigation is highly subsidised, farmers in Haryana undertake 37 and 46 irrigations for their paddy crop depending on whether they have diesel- or electric-powered tubewells. This is 2-3 times the recommended 15-20 irrigations. Though this kind of excessive use of water led to some yield gains, the major reason for the intensive cultivation of paddy is the MSP regime, where the State procured the entire produce at a pre-known price.

The scheme

Haryana has 19 blocks where the water-table depth has exceeded 40 metres and eight of these blocks grow paddy. In this context, it is heartening that Haryana has planned to make farmers diversify to less water consuming crops, with incentives to reduce paddy area in some specified parts of the State. These new crops have many other benefits like nitrogen fixation, lower cost of production, lower use of chemical inputs, and beneficial by-products like fodder, besides protection from market risk like that for paddy and wheat in the form of MSP and procurement by the government.

The Crop Diversification Scheme, called ‘ Mera Pani Meri Virasat ’, focusses on replacement of paddy by maize, cotton, bajra, pulses and fruits and vegetables in one lakh hectares in targeted blocks having groundwater table below 40 meters where paddy is grown in 1.8 lakh hectares, and another four blocks with water table below 35 meters.

There are block-wise targets for various crops, including fruits and vegetables. Farmers in other than the targeted eight blocks in four districts will also be eligible to get benefits under this scheme if they replace their paddy area with alternative crops and do not grow paddy in new areas.

Further, paddy will be restricted in panchayat lands of four blocks of two districts of Kurukshetra and Fatehabad where the water table is below 35 meters. The gram panchayats would not be allowed to permit cultivation of paddy in their auctioned lands in these blocks. A financial assistance of ₹7,500 per acre for crop diversification will also be provided to the respective gram panchayats. The major features of the scheme are:

Farmers have to diversify at least 50 per cent of their cultivated paddy area by growing alternative crop/s (maize/cotton/bajra/pulses) in those 19 blocks where groundwater level is below 40 metres.

They will be provided ₹7,000 per acre for all major crops and ₹8,000 per acre for fruit and vegetable crops in lieu of diversification from paddy to other crops.

Farmers are advised not to cultivate paddy in any new area where paddy was not grown during last year.

Only those farmers will be eligible for getting financial benefits who will diversify over 50 per cent of their last kharif season (2019-20) paddy area.

Farmers who will diversify less than 50 per cent of their paddy area in eight blocks of the four districts of Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Fatehabd and Sirsa will not be eligible for getting any subsidy.

All diversified crops such as maize/bajra/pulses will be procured by the government at MSP.

Eighty-five per cent subsidy will be provided for installation of micro-irrigation system in the diversified crops area.

There is provision for various farm-level investments like farm ponds at 70-100 per cent subsidy, poly and net houses at 65 per cent subsidy, mulching subsidy of ₹6,400 per acre, soluble fertilisers at 50 per cent subsidy and bamboo stacking for vegetables at 65 per cent subsidy.

The vegetable farmers would also have the benefit of Bhavantar Bhugtaan Yojana (price deficiency scheme, tried in the State earlier for four vegetable crops) under which bitter gourd, ladyfinger, chillies, capsicum, onion, tomato, brinjal and bottle gourd would be purchase at specified minimum prices (ranging from ₹13.5 per kg for bitter gourd to ₹4.5/kg for bottle gourd) if market prices fall too low. The incentive to farmers will be given in two instalments — 25 per cent will be given after verification of the crop sown and 75 per cent before harvesting. Incentive will only be given by ‘Direct Benefit Transfer’ in the notified bank account or Aadhaar-seeded account.

For horticultural crops, ₹2,000 would be paid on sowing and ₹5,000 two months after sowing. The small and marginal farmers have been encouraged to shift one-third of their sown area to horticultural crops. The tenant and lessee farmers have also been included in the crop diversification scheme. The large farmers with tubewells (50 HP or above) have been advised to not plant paddy at all as they can easily take this risk and should set the example for others.

Improvements needed

The scheme is impressive in terms of its targets and can be pushed through as it is targeted at a small area in a few blocks of a few districts, though there could have been a differential incentive for different farm categories, including small and marginal farmers, women farmers and those from weaker sections.

Another anomaly is: Why panchayat lands in eight blocks where water table depth is more than 40 meters are not restricted from growing paddy on their leased-out lands? It is even more important to first enforce this rule in the panchayat lands of the villages falling in these blocks.

It is surprising that direct seeded basmati was part of the 2013-14 diversification plan, but does not figure in the scheme now. This is one of the few crops in the State which is part of the global value chain and has been able to deal with issues of quality and traceability despite lack of any public price or market support unlike ordinary paddy or wheat. The fruit and vegetable growers can be helped with market places in the newly permitted Farmer Consumer Market Yards (FCMYs) — that is, the new avatar of apni mandis (farmers’ markets) under the new APLM Act.

The State should also stop giving electric connections to those farmers who grow paddy anywhere in the State unless they are first-time applicants and small or marginal farmers and make them sign an undertaking that they would not grow paddy for certain length of time (5-10 years) if they want an electric connection. In fact, the very policy of subsidised power for irrigation should now be logically done away with.

What comes out clearly from this initiative is that the State has a role to play in such situations where certain crop practices damage not only individual farm and farmer viability but also compromise the larger societal resource base .

Agriculture cannot be left to market forces alone. This initiative, if successful, should be replicated across the State and can pave the way for planned production and marketing for achieving sustainable farmer livelihoods.

The author is Professor, IIM Ahmedabad. The views are personal