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Lok Sabha TV Insights: Reforming Irrigation in India (Very Important for Mains – Paper – 3)

Lok Sabha TV Insights: Reforming Irrigation in India

03 July 2015

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Government recently launched ‘Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojna’ with proposed investment of Rs 50000 crores spread over next five years. Current year allocation is Rs 5300 crores aimed at irrigating 6 lakhs additional hectares. It holistically aims to bring all the existing schemes under it and put a 3 level strict monitoring mechanism viz. District, State, and National levels. In past deficit monitoring mechanisms have been biggest loophole in various schemes. It further promises to extend irrigation to every village in India. Currently irrigation is limited to just 40% of the total cultivated land. As always, here too implementation is the key challenge.

This time there is greater vertical (center, state and districts) and horizontal (ministry of water, ministry of irrigation, ministry of rural development) cooperation which will ensure fast track implementation. District committee will be responsible for planning and implementation; it will be supervised by ‘State Monitoring committee’ headed by Chief Secretary and there will be a National Executive Committee under the Chairmanship of the Vice-Chairman, NITI Aayog, to oversee issues such as programme implementation, allocation of resources, inter-ministerial coordination, monitoring and performance assessment, and administrative issues.

Further, the programme will be supervised and monitored at the national level by an ‘Inter-Ministerial National Steering Committee’, chaired by the Prime Minister. To states, 75% assistance will be provided by center and its 90% in case of north east states.

India has got numerous perennial and seasonal rivers, and more than 110 cm of average annual rainfall. So, as such we have plenty of water available, but problem is skewed availability across different geographical divides. On one hand there are severely water deficit regions like parts of Rajasthan, Saurashtra, Vidarbha, Rayalseema etc. that bear brunt of annual draught, while on the other side there are regions like eastern India and western Ghats (windward) that are among wettest regions in the world. Key challenge is to engineer ‘inter basin water transfer’. There are some success stories at regional basis under which water is transferred from one basin to another. For eg. –

  1. Indira Gandhi canal – Transfer of water from Indus basin to deserts of Rajasthan
  2. Periyar project – Transfer of water from Periyar basin to Vaigai basin
  3. Kurnool Cudappah Canal – Transfer of water from Krishna basin to Pennar basin

Similar projects can be replicated elsewhere like in Bihar where monsoon brings devastating floods annually. Earlier there were talks of ambitions projects like Ganga Cauvery Link Canal and Garland canal. These aimed at creating massive transfer systems at pan India level, something line ‘National Water Grid’ under which water could be moved to and at chosen places and times. But these were neither affordable nor practical. So, only option is region based water transfer.

First target will possibly be mapping of water bodies throughout India. We have 85 large reservoirs with capacity of about 253 billion cubic meters of water. Other important assets are the ancient ponds in villages. All these can be mapped along with relief of land through satellite imaging or geo tagging, which can provide useful inputs for ‘rain water harvesting’ and watershed development. This will help arresting water runoff which inhibits recharge of groundwater acquafiers. Swaminathan committee suggested promoting the ‘farm ponds’ as are prevalent in south India. These are small ponds held commonly by 2-3 farmers.

For this entire work, scheme will also utilize labor available under MNREGA scheme. This will pacify critics of MNREGA, who argue that the scheme doesn’t build and useful durable asset.

Further, integral part of the scheme will be awareness for the farmer. This will make sure that only suitable crops are planted. For e.g. Sugar cane or paddy is not sowed in areas with water problem. For this states with help of districts will draw a District Irrigation Plan and a State irrigation Plan.

Government will have to provide subsidized irrigation equipments such as sprinklers and drip irrigation systems. Farmers are in habit of waterlogging the crops, even when they need just moisture in the soil. Due to this attitude wastage is rampant. Success of this ambitious program doesn’t only depend upon seriousness of the central government, but also ambitions of and participation by the state and local governments and by farmers themselves. Currently, because of disproportionately large availability of water in North West India, about 80% subsidy provided on water and fertilizer is cornered by rich commercial farmers. ‘Irrigation to all’ is first and foremost step which will ensure correction of this distortion.