By Dr Gian Singh*
A recent research paper, based on a survey of 320 farming families in four districts of Punjab, has tried to show that high crop densities and the use of inputs have led to degradation of land, air, water and humans through a rich agricultural structure. Although mechanization has increased agricultural productivity, it has also caused environmental degradation.
Authored by scholars Kariti Jain and Prof Sucha Singh Gill, the study, titled “Environmental Impacts of Groundwater Irrigation Economy: A Case Study of Indian Punjab”, has been published in the July/September 2021 issue of the Journal of the Indian Social Science Institutions, Department of Economics, Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development, Chandigarh.
Pointing out that in Punjab and in adjoining States a large number of deaths are caused every year due to road accidents and health disaster because of smog created by the paddy harvest, the study says that in order to overcome the problem, there is an urgent need to spread awareness among the farmers about the benefits of soil testing and the use of organic fertilizers and organic pesticides.
The researchers say, Green Revolution has led to depletion of fertile land and natural crop diversification has got eroded. Indeed, Punjab’s land, air, water and economy have deteriorated to a great extent in recent times, which is having a devastating effect on the lives of the people living.
Decades ago, due to natural crop diversification, the soil was fertile, the air and water were clean, the environment was healthy, and the economy was generally ahead of all the other States in the country. The social relations of the people were very warm.
During the Second World War, the country was facing severe shortage of foodgrains and their skyrocketing prices and these problems were also threatening the country’s independence. These problems could be addressed as the development of the agricultural sector, which was given top priority by the Central government during the first five year plan (1951-56)
However, during the Second Five Year Plan (1956-61), the country again faced shortage of foodgrains due to the Central government’s shifting of priority from agriculture to industrial development. Drought in most parts of the country in the two years between 1964-66 led to a sharp rise in foodgrains.
The shortage of foodgrains in the country increased so much that the then Central government had to face the dilemma of importing foodgrains from abroad. It ordered foodgrains under PL-480 from the US which cost the country dearly.
To overcome the problem, the Central government decided to adopt a new approach to agriculture in the country. This new agricultural technique was a bundle of high yielding seeds, guaranteed irrigation, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, fungicides and other chemicals, machinery and modern farming methods. After the decision of the Union government to adopt new techniques of agriculture, various aspects of different parts of the country were studied and the technique was adopted by hard working farmers, farm laborers and rural small artisans of Punjab.
Considering the rich natural resources, fertile land, proper ground water level, suitable climatic conditions for different crops, etc., priority was given to Punjab. The hard work of the farmers, farm labourers, and rural artisans of Punjab and the over-utilization of its rich natural resources succeeded in overcoming the scarcity of foodgrains in the country to such an extent that the then Central government got rid of the stumbling block to order foodgrains from the US.
Under the new technique of agriculture introduced in Punjab, the immense increase in wheat productivity and production could be sustained for a long time, which led to some fundamental changes. This was termed Green Revolution.
The Central government, in view of the outstanding contribution made by Punjab to the Central Foodgrains Reserve, imposed the Minimum Support Price (MSP) policy on agricultural commodities in 1973. Paddy crop was not suitable for Punjab’s agro-climatic conditions. During that time, kharif, cotton and maize were the major crops during the kharif season and basmati paddy was grown in some Shivalak semi-mountainous areas.
Due to the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, fungicides and other chemicals in agricultural production in Punjab, and the ‘pond irrigation’ method for paddy crop, the fertility of the land has, however, steadily declined. Apart from this some land has either become barren or is on the verge of becoming barren.
Chemicals, pond irrigation for paddy and forced burning of paddy straw and wheat stubble are constantly polluting the environment. Nowadays, every corner of Punjab has become poisonous due to which the creatures living here are often afflicted with innumerable dangerous and deadly diseases.
Punjab was first among all the States in the country in terms of ground water level and its quality. Due to sowing of paddy crop, the ground water level in Punjab has come down to dangerous levels. Myself along with Dr Surinder Singh and Harwinder Singh in our research study ‘Groundwater Development in Punjab’ have revealed that in the areas of Punjab, where wheat/ paddy crops are sown/ planted, the ground water level is below dangerous levels. These areas cover more than three-quarters of Punjab.
In 1960-61 there were only 7445 tubewells in Punjab and at present due to paddy sowing the number has gone up to around 15 lakh. Monoblock motors have stopped working due to continuous depletion of ground water, which has resulted in the installation of submersible motors, the high cost of which and the ever-increasing cost of their deepening sacks have become a source of debt for farmers.
The use of machinery and pesticides in the bundle of new techniques of agriculture adopted in Punjab has taken a heavy toll on agricultural employment. It has had a devastating effect on all sections of the agricultural sector, but has hit the marginalized, and small farmers, landless farmers, farm laborers, and rural artisans. Farm labourers and rural artisans are the two poles at the bottom of the ladder of the agricultural economy that are more prone to wear, breakage, and cold. These sections have no other means of production other than selling their labour.
Punjab has been the number one State in the country for a long time in terms of economy. Punjab’s status has come down due to the agricultural policies of governments, especially the Union government. Young children of Punjab are going abroad due to lack of employment and very low standard of employment. Such a phenomenon is depriving Punjab of intellectual and capital as well as demographic benefits which people are paying a heavy price nowadays and it is not easy to predict what other problems/ disadvantages this phenomenon will create in the future.
Farmers of Punjab and other rural sections are well aware of the inputs used in agricultural production. In order to control the deterioration of Punjab’s land, air, water and economy, it is imperative that governments, especially the Union government, on their part do not jeopardise food security.
*Former Professor, Department of Economics, Punjabi University, Patiala