The Supreme Court’s observation on phasing out paddy from Punjab may be easier said than done as the state contributes a large chunk to the central pool and earns a significant amount of revenue from the crop every year, according to a noted economist and a top state government source.
On Tuesday, during a hearing on air pollution in Delhi-NCR and stubble burning, the top court had said that the growth of paddy, a crop not native to Punjab, is causing the water table to decline. “…paddy cultivation must be phased out to be substituted with other crops and the Central government should explore the aspect of giving a minimum support price for alternative crops,” it said.
Punjab Advocate General Gurminder Singh Kharbanda had suggested to the court that paddy cultivation must be replaced by millets and MSP should be given for other crops.
The state government source mentioned above, requesting anonymity, said it was unlikely that the Centre would provide so much money to Punjab for any other crop, even for millets. “Also, we do not have any such crop. The Centre already wants to phase out paddy from Punjab…. they have to pay so much MSP. Last year, we received Rs 43,000 crore for paddy procurement. This year, the state government has already received Rs 37,000 crore. This is a huge amount of money that helps the rural Punjab economy hugely,” said this source.
Although the order didn’t name the variety, the reference was basically to Pusa-44. In the current kharif season, Punjab farmers have planted 5.48 lakh hectares under Pusa-44, which is over 17 per cent of the state’s total 31.99 lh area under paddy.
Economist Kesar Singh Bhangoo said phasing out paddy was not the solution. “I agree paddy is not native to the state and it is a water guzzler. But imagine that last year when the wheat yield reduced due to extraordinarily hot February, the Centre banned the exports of wheat. When white rice vanished from shelves in the US, Iran and Iraq due to the Ukraine war, India banned the export of rice. Punjab produces 18 to 20 per cent rice for the central pool. How can the Centre do without this crop?” he asked.
He added that the government had spent millions on machinery for paddy and stubble. “Now, if they phase out paddy, what will they do with so much investment that has gone into the machinery? Everything has to be thought through. There cannot be knee-jerk reactions,” he said.
Bhangoo added that the only solution was that the government needs to look at the reduced window between paddy harvesting and wheat sowing. Pusa-44 takes 155-160 days to mature. The crop transplanted in mid-June after nursery sowing a month earlier is ready for harvesting only towards late-October. And since that leaves very little time for sowing the next wheat crop, ideally before mid-November, farmers burn the standing stubble and loose straw remaining after harvesting.