By Dr. Amrit Patel:
Water for Irrigation: In the year 1947, the effects of the partition of the country and the drought caused a massive deficit in food supplies. Acknowledging irrigation as important infrastructure for developing agriculture, the country emphasized and prioritized the development of water resources program. From the First Plan, Government has invested about Rs. 2 lakh crore for creating irrigation facilities. The Union Government initiated the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Program (AIBP) in 1996-7 for extending assistance for the completion of incomplete irrigation schemes. Under the AIBP, Rs.55,416 crore of central loan assistance /grant has been released up to 31 December 2012. An irrigation potential of 76,22,500 hectares is reported to have been created by States, from major / medium /minor irrigation projects under the AIBP till March 2011. Total irrigation potential so far created is around 108.2 million hectares by March 2010. The net irrigated area increased from 2085 million hectares in 1950-51 to 58.54 million hectares in 2004-05 whereas gross area under irrigation increased from 22.56 million hectares to 79.51 million hectares during the period. The gross irrigated area increased from 34% of gross cropped area in 1990-91 to 45.3% in 2008-09.
Groundwater: Around 70% of India’s irrigation needs and 80% of its domestic water supplies come from groundwater. A large part of agriculture is dependent on non-renewable groundwater. Water table in many States has been falling at an alarming rate. For decades, agricultural States of Punjab, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan encouraged farmers to sink tube wells to get free water for agricultural use. Power for pumping out this water was supplied virtually free or at heavily subsidized rates. This led to over-exploitation of groundwater and widespread environmental damage. Even this encouraged farmers to flood crops like rice, wheat and fruit trees with water indiscriminately impacting on soil/environmental degradation and low crop productivity. Rate of groundwater depletion raced faster than the rate of replenishment in many States. NASA scientists in the US, using satellites to track groundwater loss in India’s north-western grain basket have found that there has been an average 33 cubic km a year drop in the water table in the region, much higher than the estimates of the Government of India. The satellite study has revealed a loss of 109 cubic km groundwater in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan over the six-rear period between August 2002 and October 2008, twice the capacity of India’s largest surface water reservoir, the Upper Wainganga in MP. To regulate exploitation of groundwater by legislation in the light of the National Ground Water document “Dynamics of Ground Water Resources of India” brought out by the Central Ground Water Board in 2005 which revealed extremely alarming & deteriorating condition of ground water in country’s 1,645 blocks as compared to 4,078 safe blocks. There are 839 blocks over exploited, 226 blocks critical, 550 blocks semi-critical and 30 blocks saline. Over exploitation of groundwater must be regulated strictly.
Serious Issues: India needs to seriously demonstrate the political commitment and administrative skill and initiate strategic actions to address following serious issues, in the light of pressing needs viz.
[i] Fast changing water scenario as a result of increasing population, rising demand for irrigation of high-yielding varieties of crops, rapid urbanization and industrialization, electricity generation, impact of global warming and comparatively low average rainfall
[ii] Mid-term appraisal report of the eleventh five year plan that recognized, based on persuasive scientific evidence that India’s water situation is even more serious than originally assessed.
[iii] The change in water usage pattern being predicted in Agriculture, industry and domestic from 89%, 6% & 5% of the total respectively in 2000 to 81%, 11, & 8% in 2025 and 71%, 18% & 11% respectively in 2050.
[iv] The groundwater depletion at the rate observed by the NASA scientists in the North-western region and warns that the region may, within the next few years, experience a severe shortage of potable water, reduce agricultural productivity and extended socio-economic-politico stress.
[v] Irrigation potential of 140 million hectares that can be created against the current level of 109 million hectares created.
[vi] Significantly utilizing the irrigation potential from 80 million hectares to 109 million hectares.
Incomplete projects: There has been an increase in the number of projects awaiting completion since the end of IV Plan. The backlog has remained between 500 and 600 projects since then. The backlog declined at the end of VII Plan but increased again to the present level. Currently, there are 557 irrigation projects yet to be completed. Andhra Pradesh has completed only 17 projects out of the allotted 105 projects, followed by Karnataka [33/305], Maharashtra [94/186] and Madhya Pradesh [90/242] projects. Major factors responsible for this include, inter alia, improper synchronization of project components and delayed tendering and contract management, land acquisition, delays in construction of railway/highway crossing.
Time and Cost overruns: Worst part of the inordinate delay in completion of projects has been the time and cost overruns. A study by the Planning Commission on cost overruns found that for a representative 12 projects, there was an escalation of the order of 138% over the original cost [i.e. escalation of 1.38 times the approved cost]. There was a very high cost escalation of the order of 1,000% and more for 24 out of the 151 major projects taken up earlier than 1980 and the average escalation is around 200% for major projects starting from 1985. In the case of medium projects, there are 24 projects with a cost escalation of 500% or more.
Underutilization: The gap between the irrigation potential created [IPC] and the irrigation potential utilized [IPU] is steadily increasing from the First Plan. Currently IPU is 80 million hectares [73.39%] as against IPC of 109 million hectares. Factors responsible for low utilization of irrigation as studied by Indian Institute of Management [Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata and Lucknow] focus on lack of proper operation and maintenance, incomplete distribution systems, non-completion of CAD works, changes from the initially designed cropping pattern and diversion of irrigable land for other purpose, among others. Inadequate provision of budget provision for operation and maintenance of the irrigation system is significantly responsible for underutilization followed by non-completion of distributaries, minors, field channels and on-farm development.