As the Soil Health Card scheme was launched by the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, on February 19, 2015, in Rajasthan, he gave the slogan- “Swasth Dharaa; Khet Haraa” meaning “Healthy Earth; Healthy Farm”. Referring to the phrase “Sujalam, Suphalam” in our national song, Vande Mataram, he also stated that the scheme was a step towards fulfilling this vision. The scheme aims at providing every farmer in India with a soil health card over a period of the next three years.
If statistics are to be believed, the cultivable area in our country is 141 million hectares and if an average holding is of one hectare, then it implies distribution of 141 million cards. The government aims to cover about 30 million farmers in 2015 and 55 million each in the next two years. The scheme may seem too ambitious on the face of it but it definitely opens up opportunities for a new class of entrepreneurs to set up soil testing laboratories according to the Prime Minister. A soil testing laboratory can examine 10000 samples of soil on an average per year. If one-third of these 141 million fields are to be covered every year, we would need 4700 laboratories. As of now, we have only about 1250 laboratories- 1050 stationary and 200 mobile. There is a huge capacity gap which needs to be addressed and which needs immediate attention in order to make this scheme a success else, this scheme will also get lost in the myriad of schemes that the Indian Government comes up annually.
Agriculture contributes to one-sixth of the Gross Domestic product of India and a major chunk of our population depends on farming for their livelihood. Declining soil health because of excessive use of fertilizers, non-replacement of depleted nutrients, etc. has now become a serious concern and has also decreased the soil fertility in various parts of the country. Therefore, there is a need to assess soil health at regular intervals so that the farmers can apply the nutrients required while taking advantages of the nutrients already present in the soil. Talking about the question of what this health card represents, it signifies the quality and fertility of the soil sample. The analysis is based on physical quantitative parameters like soil depth, color, texture, surface/ subsurface hardness, compaction, etc. and on chemical parameters like soil pH, electrical conductivity, levels of primary, secondary and micro-nutrients.
The next thing that needs to be considered is what use is such information to a farmer and whether the health card would help reduce consumption of fertilizers. While physical parameters help determine the type of soil and hence broadly decipher the type of farming that could be followed by the farmer, the chemical parameters help understand the amount of nutrients essential to enable ideal growth. For example, if the soil turns out to be more acidic, application of more lime is recommended, and if it is alkaline, it can be corrected through gypsum treatment and ensuring no water-logging. Also, the card will help the farmer in determining what can be more easily grown in the farm. For instance, if the soil contains more nitrogen, wheat or rice is more suitable; phosphorus is the most important nutrient for pulses; and potassium is vital for tomato, banana and pineapple.
As regards reduced fertilizer consumption, these cards will not help reduce it but will help the farmer to decide which fertilizer to use and in what combination. If the scheme proves successful, we may witness a shift in the market where instead of selling plain fertilizers, companies might start the practice of selling modified fertilizers, custom-made for particular crops in specific regions. Politically, the government might be trying to push the scheme keeping in view the mounting fertilizer subsidy bill which is largely on account of urea alone. If this scheme helps in dissuading the farmers from overusing urea, it might turn out to be a win-win situation.
Talking about the practical impossibilities of the scheme, first and foremost, bridging the gap between the number of soil testing laboratories that exist today and the targeted number that needs to be established in the following three years is a behemoth task. The ‘new class of entrepreneurs’ may set up their establishments in urban areas and towns, but it is the villages that are mostly uninformed and severely affected. Moreover, the government should come up with incentives for those who seek to set up such laboratories in rural areas. The cost of testing the soil is Rs. 150 per sample for basic parameters like pH, electrical conductivity and primary-secondary nutrient content. As per analysts, deeper analysis of soil health involves Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer which costs about Rs. 20 lakh. Once the cost of other equipment, chemicals, salaries of employees, capital cost, etc. is added up, it turns out to be more than Rs. 75 lakh.
This cost can only be recuperated from the farmers or the government if it decides to subsidize soil testing. Therefore, this is what the government could do in order to overcome the immediate shortcomings: subsidize soil testing; provide incentives for entrepreneurs; set up camps to spread awareness about the importance of soil health; and set up laboratories themselves in regions that need immediate attention. The entire scheme does not talk about what the farmer could do once he is aware of the health of the soil in his land. The government should also establish soil health clinics where oblivious or unaware farmers could go and get appropriate solutions to the problems pertaining to the quality or health of the soil.
 Soil Health Card- A tool for better productivity, Press Information Bureau, Government of India.
 Harish Damodaran, Soil on my Fingertips, The Indian Express, February 22, 2015.
About the Author
Soumya Tiwari is pursuing her B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) degree from Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow and is currently in her third year. Her areas of interest are substantive criminal law and intellectual property rights law. She has a keen interest in research work and has been adjudged as the best researcher at the 7th edition of GNLU International Moot Court Competition, 2015. In her free time, she loves to read and is passionate about singing. She is currently interning with the Model Governance Foundation.