Accelerating Rate of Groundwater Depletion in Punjab, Worries Farmers and Experts

Environmental News from India: 

  • A National Green Tribunal (NGT) monitoring committee announced recently that Punjab’s groundwater will drop below 300 meters by the year 2039.
  • Punjab’s central and southern districts, such as Barnala, Bathinda, Fatehgarh Sahib, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Moga, SAS Nagar, Pathankot, Patiala, and Sangrur, are among the most affected as the average yearly rate of fall of groundwater levels works out to be approximately 0.49 meter per year.
  • While agriculture experts and environmentalists suggest phasing out the paddy crop, as one of the main solutions for the groundwater crisis, farmers expect the assured purchase of the alternative crops planted as a replacement for paddy.

A 2020 block-wise groundwater resources assessment by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) found that most of the districts in Punjab had over-exploited the groundwater levels. In some districts, the groundwater level was marked as critical.

Groundwater extraction in Punjab has already reached 150-200 meters in most places in central Punjab. If the present depletion continues, Punjab’s groundwater is expected to drop below 300 meters by 2039, as per CGWB. Experts warn of a major threat to India’s food security if Punjab’s groundwater goes dry. Phasing out paddy and remodeling British-era canal systems to improve canal-based irrigation techniques are being recommended as possible solutions.

Last month, a monitoring committee of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) reviewed the district environment plan of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar district (formerly Nawanshahr district). The committee laid stress on the depleting groundwater levels and announced that usable groundwater is available till the threshold limit of 300 meters (1000 feet), beneath the ground.

Balbir Singh Seechewal, a noted environmentalist and member of the NGT panel that met last month, told Mongabay-India that their prediction about ‘groundwater depletion in 17 years was not based on hearsay. It came from Central Ground Water Board (CGWB)’s 2019 report which studied Punjab’s groundwater situation till 2017. The report states that if the present rate of extraction continues, within the next 22 years, the state’s usable groundwater will vanish.

“Five years have already passed and there has been no drop in Punjab’s groundwater depletion rate. We are left with 17 years. The situation is very delicate. The successive governments have not given the serious and immediate attention this issue deserves. The time has come to stop this; otherwise, no one can stop Punjab from getting perished,”  Seechewal told Mongabay-India. As per the report, the average yearly rate of fall of groundwater levels works out to be approximately 0.49 meters/year.

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Source: Mongabay

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