By Dr. Amrit Patel:
World water scenario is now fast changing as a result of increasing population, rising demand for irrigation to raise high-yielding varieties of crops, rapid urbanization and industrialization, electricity generation, impact of global warming and erratic rainfall. In India, the share of agriculture in GDP has phenomenally declined from 50% in 1950s to around 18% now. Monsoons still continue to influence on agricultural growth. Recurrent drought in some parts of the country each year brings into sharp focus the critical significance of water, coping with water scarcity.
It is estimated that the world would require 60% more food between now and 2050 to meet the demand of an eventual population of more than nine billion people.
Water for Life Decade [2005-15] and the annual World Water Day being held on March 22nd every year has significance to create awareness among all stakeholders that water is finite, scarce, costly and precious and, therefore, should be efficiently managed for country’s sustainable development. On this day the electronic and print media can discuss and publish the policy, programs, performance and issues identified during the year and present the framework to pursue the unfinished tasks to accomplish the mission. Here, I highlight some serious issues of irrigation, viz. incomplete irrigation projects, cost-time overruns, underutilization; among others, and suggests strategic actions and measures for efficient management of water resources.
India needs to seriously demonstrate the political commitment and administrative skill and initiate following strategic actions.
– 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 [Ahmadabad, 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.
– Management: Integrated Water Resource Management [IWRM] in agriculture is a concept of sustainable development, allocation and monitoring of water resource and its use in agriculture. IWRM has also a role to meet social, economic and environmental objectives. This concept has been successfully applied more in areas relating to domestic and industrial use in several countries like Australia, Mexico, and Korea. In India, notwithstanding a full-fledged river-basin approach is yet to be developed and used extensively, existing sources of water availability for agriculture[rains, surface and groundwater in particular] have to be sustainably developed, judiciously allocated and their equitable distribution and efficient use monitored rigorously. Operationalization of the concept necessitates initiation of water reforms, enactment of laws and establishing institutions to enforce them, through consultations with the farmers. In this process, Government has to assume the responsibility of a regulator and facilitator and transfer its current role of implementing irrigation projects to autonomous water services management organizations, community-based organizations and the private sector. Policy interventionists and planners of water resource development and management should invariably seek participation of farmers as ultimate water users who can be organized into legal bodies called “Water Users Associations”. Women have been found playing effective role in the provision, management and safeguarding of water for agriculture and non-agriculture purpose.
– Other measures: Other important measures need to include
a. The policy and programs related to water should focus equitable sharing of water; integrated management of surface water, soil water and groundwater; intra-basin and inter-basin water transfer; participation of an enlightened public in decision making and welfare of socially, economically and politically weak segments of society, among others.
b. Irrigation accounts for 83% of the water consumed. As per estimates of the National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development Plan, the irrigation sector will consume about 79% of the available water resources in 2050. To improve significantly the efficiency of irrigation system of the Government and private irrigation projects from the current level of 40% and 65% respectively. Even a 10% improvement in the efficiency of agricultural water use is likely to result in the availability going up by 40%. This calls for focused attention to promote improved water management practices in irrigation projects suffering from operational deficiencies and integrated water resources development and management approach.
c. Declining per capita availability and threat of river basins turning ‘water scarce’ necessitate well- coordinated and planned measures for storing run-off water during the rainy season. In view of this, widely acceptable and area-suitable water conservation measures have to be explored and adopted. Also it is necessary to strengthen existing irrigation infrastructure, increase water use efficiency and productivity, raise crops requiring less-water, make rainwater harvesting mandatory for all and provide shading with trees the banks of canals and other reservoirs.
d. Despite the fact that the country gets fairly good rainfall at about 46 inches per annum, almost 50% of its falls in a span of 15 days and 90% of the rainwater is lost due to run-off in just four months. Only about 15% of the annual rain water is used for irrigation. If this water is properly stored and efficiently used for sustained surface irrigation, it can enhance agricultural productivity at low cost and reduce excessive pressure on groundwater.
– Over the years, there has been a manifested lack of attention to water legislation, water conservation, water use efficiency, water harvesting and recycling and infrastructure. Current scenario exhibiting number of incomplete projects accompanied by low utilization of irrigation potential already created shows that return on capital invested in creating irrigation facilities is inordinately delayed or almost lost. All incomplete projects need to be completed by the end of the 12th plan period by drawing a suitable road map indicating specifically the role, responsibility and accountability of officials, department and ministry concerned.
It is time that India in her concern for the environment, ecology, social/human, and rights relating to water, shifts the subject of water to the concurrent list of the Constitution and frames policies that aim at transforming the country.