Expressing concern over the water crisis in north India, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support for upgradation of his state’s water distribution infrastructure, while calling for a fresh river water’s tribunal to address inter-state disputes.
The Chief Minister, in his speech circulated at the NITI Aayog Governing Council meeting which he could not attend owing to indisposition, also called upon the Prime Minister to provide a one-time debt waiver to mitigate the distress of indebted farmers.
State Finance Minister Manpreet Badal represented Punjab at the meeting.
The Chief Minister urged the Centre to increase the annual assistance under PM-KISAN from Rs 6,000 to Rs 12,000 per farmer, and to also include farm workers in its sweep. He also thanked the NITI Aayog for acknowledging the state’s “Pani Bachao, Paisa Kamao” initiative.
Another significant issue raised by the Chief Minister related to assistance for proper development of Punjab’s border areas, which, he said, was a national responsibility.
Amarinder Singh regretted that the Centre had not taken any action on the state’s similar demand, for a special package for border areas, raised in the last two meetings.
He demanded increase in the deployment of paramilitary forces along the Punjab border as well as special financial assistance package for upgradation of police in the border areas, where it formed the second line of defence.
He also called for greater inter-state cooperation to effectively tackle cross-border crimes.
Meanwhile, in a letter to Prime Minister Modi, the Chief Minister said that Punjab, in particular, was witnessing an alarming degree of over-utilisation of ground water, mainly due to the extensive cultivation of paddy which supports national food security.
He cited estimates of the Central Ground Water Authority that the over-utilisation of underground water in Punjab had risen to an alarming level of 168 per cent of the recharge.
Further, the canal irrigation system in Punjab, which forms the bedrock of the state’s agriculture, was showing signs of ageing, indicated by reduced water carrying capacity and longer maintenance periods, he added.
To address and mitigate this imminent water crisis, the state government was taking several urgent measures to reduce consumption of water, conserve water, improve the efficiency of water utilization, and improve water infrastructure in the state, he said.
Several schemes had been framed by the state government and presented to the Centre for assistance under its flagship programmes, he said, urging the Centre to provide the maximum possible funding for all these comprehensive projects, beginning with the current financial year 2019-20.
Amarinder Singh hoped that appropriate provisions would be made in the Budget to be presented in July.