Rain crisis: Dark spots in nation’s granary Ramaninder K Bhatia, TNN 11 August 2009, 05:11am IST CHANDIGARH: Balwinder Singh Sidhu is as unhappy as he is anxious with the job at hand. As Punjab’s director, agriculture, he has the unenviable task of monitoring the despondent situation in Punjab’s farmlands. That he also has to keep an eye on the nation’s ever growing requirement of foodgrains doesn’t make his job any easier. ‘‘Punjab would be paying a huge cost for feeding the nation this year,’’ Sidhu says. ‘‘The cost of raising this year’s paddy crop would be, both in terms of economic and ecological yardsticks, a disaster.’’ Sidhu has a point. With spiralling input costs, absence of rains and a power situation which is truant at best, agriculture has seen a manifold increase in use of diesel-powered heavy gensets to run tubewells. This has led to a scary drop in the water table, prompting a host of experts to say that the land of five rivers may soon turn into a desert. Last year, an astounding 101 blocks were declared ‘dark’ (where water drawn is more than the annual recharge) out of a total of 141 blocks in the state. This year’s assessment, which would be done in October, is likely to be far worse. Buying expensive power for agriculture has become another albatross around the government’s neck considering the huge amounts involved. Every year, the government ends up paying Rs 2,800 crore in subsidy and an equal amount on power from outside to cover the shortfall at home. Desperate farmers are compounding the problem by sowing the crops twice, even thrice in some cases, and then burning diesel to sustain it while digging deeper for water. This even as reports stream in of farmers abandoning crops as they can no longer irrigate them. ‘‘Though we have covered almost the entire 27 lakh hectares that went under paddy last year, there is no guarantee we will be able to sustain the crop in case monsoon fails in August,’’ Sidhu warns. The mood is sombre in most of Punjab with paddy growing districts like Fatehgarh Sahib, Amritsar, Ferozepur, Patiala and Bathinda going rain-deficient by as much as 71% to 35%. If there is any hope of resurrection, no one’s willing to hazard a guess. ‘‘It all depends on the rainfall in August. Sustaining the crop till September would require 10-12 irrigation cycles and given the power situation it would be a tough call,’’ said a senior Punjab official. For 60-year-old Roshan Singh of Chatt village, near Chandigarh, it’s been a hard toil. ‘‘We have no power and I will now have to request the linemen to repair the transformer so that I can irrigate my fields. On the other side of the road, though, a separate line comes for the fields of VVIPs who have power for up to 12 hours,” he says. As water evaporates from his fields all he can think of is his wife and his widowed daughter with three children, all of whom depend on him and his parched land. Forwarded by forum member Tejwant Singh Malik.