'Free power effected groundwater level in Punjab'

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Chandigarh, Jan 16: The policy of free electricity for farmers in Punjab has led to undue exploitation of groundwater resources and presently out of the 141 development blocks in the state, over 85 per cent have been classified as 'over exploited'.

"Excessive use of pump sets for accessing groundwater leaves little incentive to conserve either water or electricity " , Prof Isher Judge Ahluwalia, Chairperson of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations today observed.

Delivering her address at the 57th Annual Convocation of the Panjab University here, she said that the heavy bias towards subsidising urea has created major problems of imbalance in the use of fertilizers. Inadequate application of potassium and phosphate fertilizers has had adverse effect on soil quality and yields, she added.

"If agricultural growth is to be revived and environmental deficit is to be covered, crop diversification is the need of the hour", she said while calling for directing research towards high value crops.

Modern infrastructure faclities need to be set up by the Public sector or the private sector for storage, transporting and marketing of the crops.

Modernisation of retail services offers a new set of tremendous opportunities for diversifying into high value crops, she added.

An important part of the solution of reviving agricultural growth will have to come from an industrial strategy which builds synergies with the agricultural sector, she said while calling for the promotion of agro-based industries.

" An additional challenge to the sustainability of growth and development in the state arises from the failure to pursue prudent fiscal management", she said while calling for an end to populistic policies.

Prof Ahluwalia who heads the UNDP team that is framing the new industrial policy of the border state, pointed out that economic growth had suffered a major setback in Punjab over the past two decades. Punjab had a glorious record of growth of 5 per cent per annum in the three decades of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, but by the end of the third decade the other states caught up with the state, she added.

The agrarian focus in Punjab, however, meant that the development of a sound industrial strategy did not find favour with the policy makers, she said. Development of value added products using the rich agricultural base was the natural course to follow, but except for dairy and some milk-based products, this potential has not been tapped, she lamented.

Prof Ahluwalia observed that Punjab's slowdown in economic growth in the 1990s coincided with the period when the Government of India launched a process of wide ranging economic reforms opening the economy to imports as well as domestic competition to provide larger scope to the private sector to generate growth in the economy. Unlike many other states which caught on to the new orientation, and started gearing up their administrative machinery to attract private investment in industry, Punjab failed to take advantage of the new industrial opportunities that were opening up, she regreted.

" New investments including FDI in automotives and auto parts went to the states in the South and the West and Punjab missed out on this transition. Tirupur prospered and Ludhiana did not", she added.

In making up for lost time, Punjab has to improve its investment climate, build on its existing strength of infrastructure, and develop skills needed for supporting the process of industrailsation in the state, she suggested. Institutions of higher learning have an important role to play in this process, she said while calling upon the state government to set up at least two Central Universities in Punjab out of the 30 such institutions that are propoesd to be set up.

While pointing out that Punjab had the lowest incidence of poverty in the country and the smallest proportion of children who are underweight, Prof Ahluwalia pointed out that despite these positive points the state suffered from some serious deficiencies in social development.

Educational infrastructure in Punjab is among the best of Indian states, but learning achievements at primary and upper primary level are among the worst, as revealed by some recent nationwide surveys conducted by the NCERT, she said. Punjab does not lack in infrastructure facilities for health, but the health outcomes are not commenusurate with the relatively high level of income of the state because of the very poor and ill-administered systems of health delivery, she observed, while calling upon the government to allow local bodies to handle elementary education and primary health.

" It is extremly important to decentralise, improve overall governance, and minimise political interference in the management of public systems of delivering health and education if Punjab is to realise its potential", she added.

Painting a dismal picture of the sex ration in Punjab, Prof Ahluwalia pointed out that the child sex ratio in the state had declined from 875 in 1991 to a low of 798 in 2001. Of the ten districts in India that have the lowest child sex ratio, seven are from Punjab, she said while calling for launching vigrous campaign to eradicate female foeticide.


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