A paddy field in Motihari. Picture by Ajit Kumar Verma
Patna, Aug. 16: Vast stretches of land in Bihar’s rice bowl are still bereft of saplings because of scanty rainfall, hinting at slump in paddy production this year.
The paddy transplantation period in kharif (monsoon) season is about to be over but over 11 lakh hectares of rice-producing fields have not been tilled yet. The latest data available with the agriculture department reveals that around 65 per cent of 34 lakh hectares of the total target area for cultivation in the kharif season have been sown till August 13.
The kharif season starts from the arrival of southwest monsoon and ends in September. Sowing of kharif crops starts from early June, followed by transplantation in early July. Paddy transplantation is feasible from the beginning of July to mid-August because 1.5’ to 2’ standing water is required in the nursery as well as the rice-producing fields. The paddy belts are mostly in north and central Bihar.
Against the targeted rice production of 93 lakh tonnes in the kharif season, the actual production stood at 83 lakh tonnes in 2012 and 81 lakh tonnes in 2011. This year, the shortfall could be far more.
Officials in the agriculture department admitted that the rice production would suffer a blow this year. “The maturing of paddy saplings in nurseries is becoming a cause of concern for us because of deficit rainfall. Most paddy seedlings in the nurseries are over 40 days old now. They should be ideally transplanted after 20 days. They would not grow much even if transplanted later. Thus, it is almost certain that there would be a negative growth in rice production this year,” said a scientist in the state agriculture department.
Meteorologists also sounded high and dry. Ashish Sen, director, India Meteorological Department, Patna, told The Telegraph: “Barring four districts in north-east Bihar and two in north-western parts, the rest of the 32 districts have huge rain deficiency. In seven districts, the rainfall deficiency is less than 40 per cent. The shortfall is above 40 per cent in 25 districts. Moreover, there is no possibility of any significant rainfall across the state in the next five to seven days.”
The state has received 454mm rainfall from June 1 till date against the normal precipitation of 624.8mm — a deficiency of 27 per cent. Taking into count the scanty rains during the peak paddy transplantation period, the state government commenced the diesel subsidy scheme from July 24.
Every farmer is entitled to Rs 250 per acre for each irrigation spell. Each farmer can get a maximum subsidy of Rs 750 per acre, considering they undertake three irrigation spells. Around Rs 3.76 crore would be disbursed among farmers as diesel subsidy but tillers are not overwhelmed.
“Getting the subsidy is too cumbersome and hardly of any immediate help to farmers. According to the scheme, the farmers are supposed to procure diesel on their own, attach the bill with the subsidy form and submit them to the kisan salahkar (farmers’ adviser) for reimbursement. The subsidy amount reaches the farmers after several weeks,” said Ramvilas Tiwari, a farmer from Tiwari Chakiya village at Bhorey block in Goplaganj district.
The rice bowl in Bihar includes Rohtas, Jehanabad, Gaya, Patna, Bhojpur and Nalanda, mostly in north and central Bihar. Transplantation of only 11 per cent of paddy seedlings has been done so far in Gaya against the targeted area of 1.55 lakh hectares because of insufficient rains. Worse, the seedlings are dithering in the fields in the absence of rain or other sources of irrigation.
Some well-off farmers have managed transplantation of seedlings using pump sets, which are now unable to fetch water for irrigation because of depletion of ground water table. Bindeshwar Yadav, a farmer of village Rahimbigha under Bara panchayat in Town block, who has two acres of land, said he had bought 12kg paddy seeds to prepare saplings. A subsidy of Rs 1,200 is provided on purchase of a packet of seeds weighing 6kg, priced at Rs 1,600.
“I had sown the seeds to grow saplings but in the absence of rain good several seedlings dithered. Only good rain can protect the standing saplings since pump sets have failed in many areas because of ground water depletion. Second, the government provides only Rs 250 per acre towards diesel subsidy for irrigation, which is not sufficient because regular irrigation is required for a good paddy production,” said Yadav.
Madhusudan Yadav of Beli Par village under Konch block of Gaya said it was hard to protect the standing crops by using pump sets because of depletion of underground water table as well as the cost involved in the purchase of diesel. Now, farmers are preparing for alternative crops like maize, pulse seeds or oilseeds, he said.
Unlike Bengal, where several traditional paddy-growers are not opting for it because of alleged discrepancies in procurement policy, the situation in Bihar is just the reverse.
“Thanks to the state government initiative, farmers here got genuine price for paddy procurement last year. Hence, they want to cultivate it this year also. Thanks to the deficient rainfall, their plan appears to be all set to go awry,” said Sudhanshu Kumar, a progressive farmer from Nayanagar in Samastipur district.
Additional reporting by Alok Kumar in Gaya