• Shamsher singh

Engineering the Subservience of Punjab to Delhi Using its Agriculture and Land

Despite being just 1.53% of India’s total area, Punjab produces 28 to 30% of the total rice and wheat. At present, wheat and rice are grown on more than 90% of Punjab’s agricultural land. This seasonal two-crop pattern has drastically affected the traditional (multiple) cropping patterns of Punjab. This shift was induced in Punjab with the launch of the green revolution in the region. At that time, food-deficit India was dependent on American grains. The Indian state identified Punjabi farmers as the most enterprising farming society of India. Once uprooted during Partition, the newly settled Sikh peasantry didn’t turn down India’s call to eradicate hunger and establish an Aatma Nirbhar India. They already had rich experience developing agriculture colonies in various regions such as Bars, Lyalpur, Hanumangarh, Ganganagar and more. From then on, in the mid-sixties the MSP regime was started by the Government. Farmers started growing crops to feed maximum population of hunger-stricken India. Along with river water, they started pumping out groundwater too to meet the need for the water-hungry wheat and rice crops. Since then, the variety of crops started contracting. The total area under agriculture in Punjab has increased from 41,79,300 hectares to 71,00,000 hectares over the last many decades. In this article, we will discuss the cropping pattern in terms of percentage to avoid confusion. (The decrease in percentage and the increase in area (in acres) of a crop may happen at the same time as total area under agriculture has increased since the 1960s)

The Rise and Rise and Rise of Wheat and Rice Production in Punjab

In 1966-67, the total area under wheat was 38.6 % whereas the total area under rice was 6.82 %. The remaining 54% area was under more than 14 crops. Gram, Cotton, Bajra, Maize and Groundnut were being cultivated on 15.16%, 10.34%, 4.40%, 10.62% and 4.35% of total area respectively. Barley, Mustard and Sugarcane collectively made about 9% of total cultivated land. About 0.68% area was under miscellaneous crops like Sesame, Linseed, Small Millets, Tur, Ragi and Jowar. The total area under rice and wheat was 45.46% and under all other crops 54.54%.In 1985-86, the area under wheat and rice increased to 50.53% and 27.83% respectively. Meanwhile, areas under Gram, Cotton, Bajra, Maize and Groundnut drastically reduced to 1.75%, 9.09%, 0.50%, 4.22% and 0.73% respectively. The collective area under Barley, Mustard and Sugarcane was reduced to 4%. The area under miscellaneous crops like Sesamum, Linseed, Small Millets, Tur, Ragi and Jowar was 0.89%. In these 20 years, raised area under rice drastically hit the cropping pattern of Kharif. The only paddy replaced big cultivation area under Bajra, Groundnut, Sugarcane and Maize. The new dwarf variety of wheat replaced the major chunk of land (15%) previously under Gram.

In 2000-01, the area under wheat and paddy increased to 49.26% and 37.74% respectively. The area under paddy had increased by 10% since 1985-86. Except for maize (2.38), sugarcane (1.75%) and cotton (6.85%), all other varieties of crops contracted between zero to one per cent of the total area. In 2014-15 the area under wheat and paddy further increased to 49.37 and 40.76% respectively. During these 15 years, the area under maize, cotton and sugarcane also contracted. Still, except for these few crops, all others contracted to a total covered area of less than 1%. In the last 60 years, the total area under rice has increased ten times i.e. from 2,85,000 hectares to 28,94,000 hectares.

Table showing area (percentage) under various crops from 1966 - 2015

The Dark Side of Feeding an Entire Nation

As the agriculture pattern has shifted to a two-crop cycle in Punjab, drastic ecological changes have occurred. The farmers of Punjab have stopped growing all other crops due to the strong market and MSP of wheat and rice. The effective Minimum Support Price and strong Mandi system was a big boost for Punjab’s economy but at the cost of Punjab’s natural resources. Excessive use of fertilizers affected soil-health adversely. The need for fertilizers is continuously increasing. The highest irrigation is required for wheat and rice. The lack of river water and rainwater availability has put more burden on groundwater. Today 80% of the blocks in Punjab are declared black zones where the first and second layer is already exhausted. The tubewells are pumping water from third and the last layer of groundwater. This crop cycle has made Punjab’s economy so spineless that it is now fully dependent on the CCL limit credited by the Centre for grain procurement. Punjab Agri sector is hopeless and directionless even with or without MSP. End of the vast diversity in cropping patterns has also hit hard the nutritional value of Punjab’s food.