The Punjab government’s push for farm diversification has yielded little result and the pre-monsoon (June) data for 20 years shows the adverse impact of monocropping. The Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) study, conducted from 1998 to 2018, has found that the groundwater level has declined by over a metre every year in 18 of the 22 districts. 

The study, Ground Water Depletion in Punjab, authored by Rajan Aggarwal, Samanpreet Kaur and Anmol Kaur Gill was published by PAU and submitted to the state government last month. The study found that groundwater that was available at three to 10 metres has fallen to below 30 metres in two decades.

The research for which data on groundwater levels were procured from the state water resources and environment directorate and the directorate of agriculture and Central Ground Water Board lists out each block of the districts and the condition of the water table.

Overexploited in most districts

Barring the four districts of Faridkot, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur and Muktsar and a few blocks in Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr, Ropar and Mansa, groundwater has been overexploited in each district of the state.

Aggarwal said the problem of water table depletion started after 1990, but the decline aggravated at an increasing rate after 1998. The situation worsened by 2012 and images shared by the PAU show the emergence of pockets where the water level has dipped below 20 metres.

By 2018, the situation worsened in the central districts of the state and the water table fell below 30 metres.

Shift from canal irrigation to tubewells

Aggarwal, who is the chief scientist of the all-India coordinated research project (AICRP) on irrigation water management, said that the canal network was strong in south-west Punjab, medium in central Punjab and weak in north-eastern Punjab.

However, the shift from canal irrigation to tubewells contributed to groundwater depletion because of the easy access and need of the farmer, he said.

“The area irrigated by groundwater increased and almost doubled during the Green Revolution from 1960-61 to 1970-71. But there was a big jump in the dependency of groundwater for irrigation between 1990-91 and 2000-01,” Aggarwal said.

The study found that the canal-irrigated area increased marginally from 27.4% to 28.7% from 2010-11 and 2017-18, respectively.

In the past six decades, the canal-irrigated area decreased from 58.4% to 28%, while the tubewell-irrigated area increased from 41.1% to 71.3%. Moreover, the net irrigated area increased from 54% to 99.2%. Due to this, there was a lot of stress on water resources and groundwater in particular.

The number of over-exploited blocks jumped from 53 to 109 between 1984 and 2017, while the number of safe blocks slipped from 36 to 22.

Amritsar, Patiala and Ludhiana over-exploited

All blocks in districts, including Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Ludhiana, Fatehgarh Sahib, Barnala, Patiala, Kapurthala, Moga, Jalandhar and Sangrur are over-exploited.

Muktsar is the only district in Punjab in which all blocks are in the safe category.

The rest of the blocks in different districts display a mixed trend.

Barring Faridkot, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur and Muktsar, all other districts showed a water table depth of more than 10 metres, Aggarwal said.

In Muktsar, farmers use canal water rather than groundwater for irrigation as groundwater quality is brackish.

“Districts in the foothills or Kandi area are characterised by high rainfall and undulating topography due to which the water table behaviour is erratic. Exploitation of groundwater is uneconomical for individual farmers,” he said.

Worst-hit districts in south Punjab

The worst-affected districts are Sangrur, Barnala and Patiala where the annual groundwater level fell by 106.5cm, 103.3, 100.2cm (an annual fall of 1 metre), respectively.

In Mohali, Fatehgarh Sahib, Jalandhar, Tarn Taran and Ludhiana districts, the water table is falling annually by 59.8cm, 70.4, 68.4, 56.7 and 56.1cm, respectively.

Source: 30 July, 2021, Hindustan Times