One of the problems with not pricing water, or the electricity that gets used to pump it out from rapidly depleting water tables, is that no one values it; that India ends up exporting water while its citizens fight for it. In the case of rice, a big export crop, every kilogram grown in Punjab uses 5,400 litres of water. So when that is exported, effectively so is a lot of water. If, however, the same rice was grown in West Bengal, a study by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) shows, exactly half the amount of water gets used. Yet, given that Punjab’s productivity—5.8 tonnes of paddy per hectare—is nearly 50% more than that of West Bengal, most people would argue it is better to grow rice in Punjab than in West Bengal.
Once you factor in the cost of this extra water—and the electricity that goes for pumping out the water—the cost equation changes dramatically, for both the farmer as well as for the country. The equation is even worse in the case of sugarcane. Each kilogramme of sugar requires 2,515 litres of water in Maharashtra—the largest producer in the country—but just 812 litres in Bihar. This is something the government needs to start factoring in. Giving per acre subsidies for growing such crops in states like Bihar and West Bengal will not only do wonders for their economy, it will also help the country save precious water.