Punjab’s Water Woes: A Man Made Disaster

Photo by Neil Palmer. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Historically known as “the land of the five rivers’’, Punjab with its rich rivers and canal networks seems like the last place where a water crisis would be underway. However, that is far from the truth. The state’s groundwater table is depleting at an alarming rate. As India becomes the largest exporter of rice in the world, Punjab plays a crucial role in achieving this feat. As one of the top producers of rice and wheat, the breadbasket of the nation has generously divided its water resources, to the rest of the nation (and the world!). But this contribution comes with a cost. The cost of draining its groundwater reserves in the form of “virtual water that goes into the production of these water intensive crops.

First things First: What is the ground reality of Agriculture in Punjab?

Over the past 4 decades, the area under rice and wheat cultivation has increased from 1.18 million hectares and 2.81 million hectares in 1980-81 to 3.13 million and 3.52 million hectares in 2018-19, respectively. The area under cultivation has also increased from 71 thousand hectares to 95 thousand hectares while that of maize and cotton has significantly declined. This long view suggests that Punjab agriculture has been shifting to cultivating water-intensive crops.