Impact of State Regulation on Groundwater Exploitation in the ?Hotspot? Region of Punjab, India
International Water Management Institute
Groundwater resources, believed to have played an important role in Green revolution-induced agricultural productivity rise in India, is under serious threat due to overdraft, especially in the food basket states. Continued unregulated exploitation of this limited resource brought Indian Punjab into a state of acute water crisis, with 90 percent of the area experiencing falling water tables. Homogenized cropping (rice-wheat) followed in the state, with water-guzzling rice being the highly favored crop in the hot summer season (kharif) along with free energy supply to the farms, is the most to blame for this resource crisis. The plunging water levels and near-bankrupt energy supply utilities led the state government to regulate groundwater use by direct and indirect measures. The Punjab Preservation of Sub-soil Water Act-2009 is such an effort to conserve groundwater resource by mandatory shifting of the transplanting date (beyond the 10th of June) of paddy to periods of low evapo-transpiration (ET) demands. The Act also has a penalty clause (imposition of fine and recovery of the cost of uprooting the crop) for the non-adhering farmers. The present paper investigates the potential of the act in bringing about anticipated real water savings. It also looks at the impact of this water management option on agricultural energy consumption. The analysis showed that a net ET gain of 14 mm to 90 mm could be obtained by a delayed transplanting of 1 to 6 weeks. ET demand of the crop reduces by 1.8, 2.4, 3.5, 6.1, 8.6 and 9.3 percent through shifting of transplanting dates by 1 to 6 weeks (Fig. 1). When the whole rice cropped area (2.62 M ha) of Punjab followed the late transplanting by the 10th of June, the net water savings of 2,180 million cubic meter were achieved resulting in a saving of 7 percent in annual groundwater draft. This would potentially check the water table decline by 60 to 65 percent. This shall also lead to a saving of about 175 million KWh of energy used for pumping with no loss in rice productivity. Poor and marginal farmers are likely to have relatively higher economic benefits by this saving in electricity, as they spend a higher proportion of their household income on purchase/ renting of pumps. Although, it is still early to evaluate the impacts of such a novel act in a democratic setup, there are prima facie reports citing effective implementation with only 0.6 percent early transplanters up to end of May 2008 when the Act was introduced as an Ordinance. The study further recommends that rather than a single way of responding; delayed transplanting ought to be integrated with other demand management options for added gains.