Not all cul­tivable land is un­der ir­ri­ga­tion; wa­ter us­age is in­ef­fi­cient

India Today - - COVER STORY -

Only 45 per cent of the cul­tivable area in the coun­try is ir­ri­gated,” says Si­raj Hus­sain, former agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary. “Pun­jab is lucky to have 98 per cent ir­ri­ga­tion but agri­cul­tural states such as Ma­ha­rash­tra, Kar­nataka and Ra­jasthan have less than 30 per cent ir­ri­ga­tion.” The 45 per cent ir­ri­gated area apart, the rest rely on the mon­soon. Any fail­ure of rains, and agri­cul­tural growth nose­dives. The cu­mu­la­tive rain­fall dur­ing the mon­soon sea­son of 2015-16, for in­stance, was de­fi­cient by 14 per cent, higher than the rain­fall deficit of 12 per cent in the year be­fore.

Within the over­all ir­ri­gated land, nearly 60 per cent is from pumped ground­wa­ter. Us­ing sub­sidised elec­tric­ity, such ground­wa­ter is pumped at will, draw­ing up more an­nu­ally than China and Amer­ica com­bined. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Euro­pean Com­mis­sion re­port, In­dia has 20 mil­lion bore­holes. The wa­ter ta­ble is falling on an av­er­age by 0.3 me­tres and by as much as an alarm­ing 4 me­tres in some places. The prob­lem is not a lack of ad­e­quate wa­ter, but its reck­less overuse. Ac­cord­ing to The Econ­o­mist, “China, with a larger pop­u­la­tion, uses 28 per cent less fresh wa­ter than In­dia.”

The Modi gov­ern­ment, on July 1, 2015, launched the Prad­han Mantri Kr­ishi Sin­chayee Yo­jana (PMKSY), which is ex­pected to cover 28.5 lakh hectare un­der ir­ri­ga­tion. The aim was re­flected in the slo­gans “har khet ko paani (wa­ter to ev­ery field)” and “per drop more crop” to im­prove wa­ter ef­fi­ciency. The PMKSY linked three dif­fer­ent de­part­ments of the gov­ern­ment—agri­cul­ture, ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and wa­ter re­sources—and iden­ti­fied 99 projects that were in­com­plete for al­most two decades for early com­ple­tion un­der the Ac­cel­er­ated Ir­ri­ga­tion Ben­e­fit Pro­gramme (AIBP).

How­ever, as Gu­lati points out, “None of these projects has been com­pleted till now and the ma­jor­ity of in­com­plete projects in Ma­ha­rash­tra face in­or­di­nate de­lays and se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to ir­ri­ga­tion ex­pert Tushaar Shah, the gov­ern­ment is spend­ing the bulk of funds—Rs 50,000 crore un­der PMKSY and the Rs 20,000 crore es­crow ac­count with Na­tional Bank for Agri­cul­ture and Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment (Nabard)—on 93 in­com­plete large ir­ri­ga­tion projects. The em­pha­sis in­stead, he says, should be on a net­work of smaller canals, like in Mad­hya Pradesh, that de­liver wa­ter di­rectly to the farmer. The bu­reau­cracy is ob­sessed, claims Shah, with large dams, reser­voirs and large canals, con­tracts for which are usu­ally awarded to po­lit­i­cal cronies. It is ground­wa­ter, in fact, that cov­ers 65 to 70 per cent of ir­ri­gated area, yet the NDA gov­ern­ment has al­lo­cated only 5 to 7 per cent of the ir­ri­ga­tion funds to sources of ground­wa­ter.

On top of this, wa­ter ef­fi­ciency con­tin­ues to be ex­tremely poor in In­dia, with farm­ers us­ing al­most 2-3 times more wa­ter to pro­duce one tonne of grain com­pared with Brazil, China and the US. The Eco­nomic Sur­vey of 201516 con­cluded that In­dia largely uses the technique of flood ir­ri­ga­tion, where wa­ter is al­lowed to flow into the field and seep into the soil. This causes wastage of wa­ter as ex­cess wa­ter seeps into the soil or evap­o­rates.


Ac­cord­ing to Gu­lati, if the gov­ern­ment is to re­alise its dream of dou­bling farm in­comes by 2022, it needs to treble the re­sources for ir­ri­ga­tion in or­der to en­sure wa­ter for ev­ery farm. “The min­i­mum an­nual in­vest­ment needed would be Rs 3 lakh crore for ir­ri­ga­tion for the next five years,” he es­ti­mates. Ex­perts at the re­cent Nabard de­lib­er­a­tions also agreed that in­vest­ing more in ir­ri­ga­tion was crit­i­cal to rais­ing farm­ers’ in­comes. The cen­tral al­lo­ca­tion un­der the PMKSY was Rs 5,767 crore in the last bud­get, while states put to­gether over Rs 1.04 lakh crore for ir­ri­ga­tion in 2015-16.

The 2015-16 Eco­nomic Sur­vey rec­om­mended that farm­ers shift from flood ir­ri­ga­tion to mi­cro ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems such as drip or sprin­kler. This will help con­serve wa­ter be­sides sav­ing on the costs of ir­ri­ga­tion.

Ac­cess to ground­wa­ter is the most im­por­tant stim­u­lus to in­crease farm pro­duc­tiv­ity, es­pe­cially for mar­ginal farm­ers. The gov­ern­ment should pro­vide 24 hour power sup­ply to farm­ers and charge them a rea­son­able fee to en­cour­age farm­ers to use their tube­wells re­spon­si­bly. “By giv­ing power free to farm­ers in Pun­jab and Haryana, the gov­ern­ment caused the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of power sup­ply,” says Shah. The Bri­tish colo­nial gov­ern­ment, which built the ear­li­est net­work of canals, levied an ir­ri­ga­tion ser­vice fee in the form of a wa­ter tax, col­lect­ing enough money to main­tain canals. After In­de­pen­dence, the po­lit­i­cal au­thor­i­ties made ir­ri­ga­tion ser­vice free, end­ing up with no money for the main­te­nance of these ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems. The In­dian gov­ern­ment must re­vive a form of main­te­nance fee to make ir­ri­ga­tion sus­tain­able.



Har­vest of hope (Left) Ir­ri­ga­tion at the first agro-farm in Mysore, Kar­nataka; a seed sup­plier shares pro­duc­tiv­ity tech­niques with a farmer in Te­lan­gana

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