A tale of two states: Punjab, Kerala and Paddy cultivation

Although, the two states, Punjab and Kerala are different in a variety of ways, the geographical location, the size, the population, the people, the culture, the climate etc. but they have one thing exactly the same. The flawed and shortsighted agricultural policies eating the states from the inside. The incompetent agricultural policies running in the state are forcing the states towards inevitable disasters. And of course when the disaster hits the states it would be dismissed as “It is Mother Nature’s fury and a result of climate change, what can the state do? The entire world is responsible for the disaster.” Isn’t the very same thing people said when floods hit Kerala in 2018, the so-called largest floods of the century? Climate change is the latest means people have found to run away from their Karma. “Karma is a bitch” is not only a WhatsApp status, it indeed is true. The thing is nature does not get fooled by the propaganda ran by a few; it strictly follows the laws of physics. By resisting the newly enacted farm laws, the state of Punjab is literally digging up its own grave. It won’t be floods for Punjab like Kerala, it would be something else but much worse. Much much worse!

Starting with Kerala first. How is the 2018 Kerala floods a result of flawed agricultural policies?

In one line it was the result of Land Reforms initiated four decades ago and continues till date and MGNREGA brought into existence in 2006.

Kerala is amongst the very few states in India that receive average rainfall higher than 3000 mm. It receives an average annual rainfall of 3055 mm. Out of this, the majority of rainfall occurs during the Southwest Monsoon period (approx. 2500 mm). The left leaning media ran a propaganda that it rained too much in 2018, by confusing the people between normal rainfall and the expected rainfall. “Normal rainfall” is a mathematical term and is not the same as the usual or expected rainfall. Please have a look at the following two links where I have provided all the relevant numbers: Kerala Floods Part-1: Media’s Role and Kerala Floods Part 2: CWC’s Role

The problem with Kerala is the shrinking Paddy cultivation in the state. Before the land reforms came into picture in the late sixties and the early seventies, the total land under paddy cultivation was around 8.8 lakh hectares. Because of the land reforms, pieces of land were distributed to the tillers “land for the tillers”. While it served as an ego booster for a lot of people and Left enjoyed their support, and continued winning elections, this reform started cutting traditional wetlands used for rice cultivation into smaller pieces. A crop’s profitability depends on land size, production cost, harvesting cost, yield and marketing efficiency. A committee in 1997 found that at Rs.522, the cost of producing one quintal of rice (1 quintal equals 100 kg) was the highest in Kerala. It was Rs.258 in Andhra Pradesh, Rs.281 in West Bengal and Rs.183 in Punjab. The national average was Rs.268. Paddy is a labor intensive crop, but with Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), introduced in 2006, Laborers, mostly above 50 years of age, prefer to work under MGNREGA programs despite lower wages as the work is less labor intensive. And where are the others? Building gulf countries.

As a result of these two ill-planned policies, the traditional wetland which was 8.8 lakh hectare in ’70s shrunk to 1.96 lakh hectares by 2015 and still continues to shrink at a great rate. The problem with this traditional wetland disappearing is that wetlands hold water; for example if the average water level in a paddy field is one foot, one hectare will hold 3 million liters of water. Now imagine how much water would 7.7 lakh hectares (8.8 lakh ha -1.96 lakh ha) would have held. This water retention capacity is not available anymore because of these two short sighted agricultural policies, which served only short term electoral benefits but overlooked the long term effects. Of course there is going to be floods, because the traditional wetlands, traditional water reservoirs are missing. Of course you saw water every where in 2018, because that “everywhere” was traditional wetland, the water’s rightful place. It is not nature’s fury or problem that the population of the tiny state is more than it could sustain. And in addition to that, the state that used to produce 13.76 Lakh Metric Tonnes of rice in ’70s, now produces less than 5.49 LMT of rice, which by the way is just 15% of the state’s domestic demand. The state needs at least 40 LMT to meet its own food demand. You can’t eat rubber or coffee or other plantation crops which constitutes 82% of crops grown in Kerala. Can you? Of course you will have to eat animals like savages and call it your culture to save your sick face. Human’s need to eat something to survive. A propaganda can’t change that. Can it?

Kerala is beyond saving, and even if it were to be saved, it would be extremely difficult because I don’t see Left or Congress losing their last strong hold any time soon.

But Punjab on the other hand, still has a chance to avoid the disaster they are staring at. What is going to happen in Punjab? Its not floods, its something much worse.

Quite ironically, Punjab is a state with extremely low rainfall. It has just 649 mm average annual rainfall. This is amongst the very least for all states in India. But still it grows one of the most water thirsty crops, i.e. paddy. The current area under rice cultivation in Punjab is whooping 28 lakh hectares and 73% of it is irrigated by ground water i.e. 20 lakh hectares is irrigated using ground water. Remember one hectare will hold 3 million liters of water, as established by researchers in Kerala. Result, the ground water in Punjab is depleting at the highest rate in India as per Dynamic Ground Water Resources, 2017 report. At the current rate of depletion, Punjab’s entire subsurface water resource could be exhausted in a little over two decades.

So, what is coming next?

Land subsidence occurs when large amounts of groundwater have been withdrawn from certain types of rocks, such as fine-grained sediments. The rock compacts because the water is partly responsible for holding the ground up. When the water is withdrawn, the rocks falls in on itself.”

Sink holes, sinking land, its happening in other countries where ground water is near to exhaustion. It is going to happen in Punjab too. These countries accept the fact as to why it is happening, but when it would happen in Punjab, people would say “It is Mother Nature’s fury and a result of climate change, what can the state do? The entire world is responsible for the disaster”. And it would happen, no matter what propaganda media and politicians float.

Not just small holes and areas can sink, entire villages can and will sink. If it reaches that stage, no body would be able to do anything other than evacuating the place. What and who is responsible for this?

MSP, Indian National Congress and people like Rakesh Tikait.

Minimum Support Price was an incentive scheme provided by the government in the ’60s to the farmers to start producing crops like wheat and rice because it was the need of the hour. We were dyeing of hunger, there wasn’t enough food to feed. And that’s why MSP was provided only for a certain crops (22 + 1 ) crops, it was never provided for all the crops. The central government provided surety to the farmers that if they grow any of these crops, no matter what happens, the government will support them. It was a motivation for farmers to grow. No body can force anybody to grow or to not grow any particular crop. MSP was an incentive for the farmers and that’s why there was no law for it, it was never legalized, it is not legalized now and it won’t/shouldn’t be legalized in the future. Every party knows it, its just politics.

As of now, the condition is that the country is producing more than it can store. Millions of tonnes of food grains are wasted every year because they are rotting in the store houses. This is an irrelevant cost to the center. Not only the cost to the government, and the ecological disaster water intensive crops are causing, the farmers aren’t happy about it either. The productivity is decreasing and the cost of farming (electricity, tube wells, fertilizers etc.) is increasing. Punjab’s Agri-GDP grew by 5.7% a year in 1971-72 to 1985-86 versus India’s 2.3%; both Punjab and India grew at roughly the same 2.9-3% in 1986-87 to 2004-05, but in the period since then Punjab’s agri-GDP grew at just 1.9% versus India’s 3.5%. The lack of suitable markets for crops other than rice and wheat is forcing farmers to stick to these two crops in the state and skip the other traditional crops. Except a handful of the big farmers and their leaders who you see on TV every day, every one else knows this for a fact.

Also read: One step closer to Congress Mukt Bharat

It is high time now that the incentive plan changes. MSP should have had a strict time line and a predefined goal like every other incentives have. When you get or offer Overtime or some other sort of incentive to your employees, does that mean that you are increasing the basic salary? How long does your overtime program runs? Forever or till the time when your pre-defined goal is achieved. The problem with India is that Congress never had the balls to take hard hitting actions that would offend some of its voters, be it 370 or reservation or any other scheme that was supposed to be temporary. 370 was a temporary provision, it should have been done away with decades ago, reservation was for 10 years as per Dr. BR Ambedkar, it should have never been used as a political tool; instead of using it to uplift the socially and economically sidelined communities, Congress used them to win elections. People like Rakesh Tikait and different parties by supporting him are using MSP to win election at the cost of the life of millions, both farmers as well as non-farmers. When the land sinks, it won’t look for the caste or religion or the profession of the people that go down with it. Would it?

These farm bills provide the possibility of the existence of private markets along with APMCs where MSP continues, it provides motivation for different farmers to grow crops other than the crops that government of India procures for ration.

Wake up before the first floors in Punjab become the ground floors.

Thank you for reading. Please do share the article with your friends and family as much as possible.

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