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Technical Digest Issue - 6

Article

IRRIGATION DEVELOPMENT - PROBLEMS AND STRATEGIES


S. M. Mendhekar and M. L. Chalakh 1.0. Introduction 1.1. India is one of the few countries in the world endowed with abundant land and water resources. The average rainfall in the country is estimated to be over 4000 cubic km spread over the geographical area of 328 m ha of which 185 m ha is culturable. Due to tropical climate conditions, India experiences vast spatial and temporary variation in the rainfall. About one third of the countrys area is drought prone. The Southern and Western parts of the country comprising States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are drought prone. On the other hand, the areas subjected to periodic floods are mainly in the Northern and North Eastern parts of the country comprising States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and the seven North Eastern States. 1.2. There is wide variation in the average per capita availability of water in the various river basins. It is as

high as 14000 cubic metre in Brahmaputra / Barak valley to as low as 300 cubic metre in Sabarmati, whereas some of the river basins like Mahi, Tapi and Pennar are already water stressed. The availability of less than 1000 cubic metre per capita is considered as scarcity as per International Standards and remedial measures, as possible, need to be planned. Thus, scarcity conditions already exists in some parts of the country which needs to be mitigated. Table : Water Resources of India Geographical Area 328 m ha Culturable Area 185 m ha Rainfall 4000 cubic km Utilisable Water 1122 cubic km (including Resources 432 cubic km from Groundwater) Ultimate irrigation 139.9 m ha potential

1.3. Out of the ultimate irrigation potential of 139.9 m ha, by 1996-97, 90.81 m ha is already created including 44.93 m ha from surface water and 45.88 m ha from groundwater. 2.0. Future Demands 2.1. Drinking Water United Nations has projected that by the year 2025 A D, the population in India would be around 1394 million adopting medium projections. As per National Water Policy highest priority is accorded to drinking water supply. Therefore, the likely need of the increased population would have to be met in the long term planning to ensure drinking water supply. 2.2. Irrigation It is estimated that by the year 2025 A D, the utilization of the resources are likely to go up to 1050 cubic km consisting of 700 cubic km from surface and 360 cubic km from groundwater. Thus, almost the entire utilization of water resources of the country would be required to put to use by the year 2025 A D. However, even before this there would be many regions which would be facing serious shortage of water, especially Western Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Rayalseema in Andhra Pradesh, and most

Technical Digest Issue - 6 parts of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat States. At the same time, there would be regions which would continue to remain surplus due to availability of large water resources potentials but inadequate culturable lands. 2.3. Demand for Food Grains At present, the average annual food grains production during the last three years in the country is around 200 million tonnes, besides, sugar and edible oils etc. The futuristic demand for food grains upto 2025 A D would depend on population, per capita requirement and need for exports. The food requirements by then would go upto 400 million tonnes per year. Therefore, concerted efforts would have to be made to step up the present production through efficient management of both land and water resources. However, the most crucial yet determining factor would remain to be the availability of dependable irrigation water. 3.0. Irrigation Potential 3.1. The assessment of ultimate irrigation potential of the country made in 1972 has been revised, mainly on account of reassessment of groundwater potential by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) from 40 m ha to 64.05 m ha. The ultimate irrigation potential for minor surface water schemes was also revised from 15 m ha to 17.38 m ha. Consequently, the ultimate irrigation potential stands revised from 113.5 m ha to 139.9 m ha as per the details furnished in table below: Table : Irrigation Potential (million hectare) Ultimate Irrigation Potential (m ha) Sector Existing Revised i) Major & Medium Irrigation 58.46 58.46 ii) Minor Irrigation a) Surface water 15.00 17.38 40.00 64.05 b) Grounded water 55.00 81.43 Total (i + ii) 113.46 139.89 3.2. If, one assumes a moderate growth in demand coupled with the efficient irrigation practices leading to higher per ha crop yield from existing 2.5 tonne to achievable 3.5 tonne, the present irrigated potential would be sufficient to meet the projected food requirements. Shortages and large scale import of food grains is likely to be socially unacceptable even in globalized economy. This makes imperative to adopt other non conventional methods of increasing irrigation potentials. The non conventional methods thought of, at present, are: (1) Conservation of water use and optimization of water use efficiency; (2) Artificial groundwater recharge to further increase groundwater potential; (3) Conjunctive use of surface and groundwater; and (4) Inter basin water transfer. 4.0. National Water Policy 4.1. The National Water Policy as adopted by National Water Resources Council in its Fifth meeting on 1 April 2002 describes: Water is a prime natural resource, a basic human need and a precious national asset - hence planning, development and management of water resources need to be governed by national perspective. It emphasizes the need of well-developed information system for water related data at national and state level for resource planning through which water resource available to the country should be brought within the category of utilizable resources to the maximum possible extent. It recommends, economic developments and activities including agriculture, industrial and urban development should be planned with due regards to the constraint imposed by the configuration of water availability. There should be water zoning of the country and the economic activities should be guided and regulated in accordance with such zoning. To implement this broad principle, it is necessary to create awareness about water as a scarce resource commodity and create conservation consciousness amongst people through regulations, incentives and dis-incentives. 4.2. Agriculture Sector, being the biggest consumer of water, has to be sensitized to the need of respecting water as a scarce resource, even where it is plenty, at present. Efficient water use in crop production is indeed an inter-disciplinary subject and requires inputs from engineers, agriculture scientists, social scientists and farmers. 5.0. Employment and Income Impact Irrigation is playing an important role in generating employment in rural areas. Since, employment and income dynamics of irrigation extend far beyond farm sector, irrigation expansion plays a vital role in regional development. The additional employment generated due to irrigation is estimated at 8.7 million person-years (MPYs) including 2.6 MPYs in works and 6.1 MPYs in farm and non-farm activities. It is also estimated that irrigation helps to induce 5 per cent increase in additional output in manufacturing and 14 per cent in the tertiary service sector. 6.0. Problems of Irrigation Sector Despite its remarkable agricultural and micro economic contributions, the irrigation sector faces many problems both from within and outside the sector. Problems now faced are not only sectoral issues but economic within their ramifications, as well. Solution to the irrigation sector problems will have a strong bearing on agricultural sustainability and economic stability. 6.1. Problems in Surface Irrigation The surface irrigation projects would continue to play a stronger role. The weak physical, financial and institutional foundation on which the irrigation sector is operating makes it doubtful whether the sector can continue to deliver production, income, employment benefits at the present level. Although, surface irrigation projects have brought prosperity, the projects themselves have tended to remain unviable with the water rates covering less than 5 per cent of Operation

Technical Digest Issue - 6 and Maintenance (O&M) costs. Water logging, salinity and alkalinity is one fall out of poor management of the system and the others being distressed tail ender farmers. It is expected that the present surface irrigation systems are woefully inefficient causing many environmental and ecological problems. Nevertheless, if these resources are well-managed, better-planned and optimally- and efficiently-utilized, the potential presently created would be adequate to meet the future demand of irrigated agriculture without investing in new projects. 6.2. Problems in Groundwater 6.2.1 Although, the groundwater works, which are individually owned, have better efficiency and productivity, the main problem is of developing an adequate and potent kit of policy instrument that can enable policy makers to bring a modicum of order in its present chaotic development under private initiatives. 6.2.2 Free or highly subsidized availability of power has caused more damage to groundwater. The urgent need, therefore, is to check pumping an overdraft of groundwater keeping in view the groundwater dependent agricultural economy. Besides, declining water levels, groundwater is also confronted with the problem of chemical quality. Capital intensive technology available to elite and influential farmers has created iniquitous development and emergence of informal water markets, thus treating water as a tradable commodity in absence of effective legislation. 7.0. Challenges 7.1. The new economic policy which underlines financial disciplines and market based approaches to economic management and acceptance of WTO, which has initiated global agricultural trade liberalization, has placed Indian agriculture amidst a host of challenges and opportunities. This necessitates stipulating a 4.5 per cent growth rate against all time 3 per cent. This is possible, if there is a higher productivity and diversification to high value farm production, which can happen only through irrigation. The sector is posed with two main formidable challenges, one, the green revolution which having shown high agricultural growth is now showing signs of lethargy due to progressive exhaustion of technological potential and deterioration in natural resources, and two, the land resource based agriculture is gradually declining due to land degradation. 7.2. Besides this, the other challenges are: (1) Limitations on physical expansion of irrigation particularly in major river basins which is fast approaching its ultimate potential; (2) Competitive use of water from other sectors. The share of irrigation in the total water use is expected to decline from 83 per cent to 73 per cent during next decade as a result of four fold growth in non irrigational sectors; (3) Fiscal constraint to expansion is also becoming increasingly binding. For instance, the share of irrigation in the total Plan expenditure has come down from 22 per cent from the First Plan (19511956) to 6.5 per cent in the Ninth Plan (1997-2002). Irrigation contributes significantly to the revenue deficits of the States. 8.0. Performance Improvements In the context of present situation, it is not only imperative but compulsive to improve the performance of the irrigation sector. Unlike the expansion strategy which faces formidable exogenous constraints, the major problems for the performance improvement strategy have to be manageable and largely endogenous to the irrigation sector. The issues confronting the performance improvement are many, varied and inter linked. These could be classified as physical issues, economic & financial issues and institutional issues described hereunder: 8.1. Physical Issues The physical conditions of irrigation system is in bad shape limiting its capability and realibility. Inefficiency pervades from catchment to the drainage network leading to under utilization of the highly costly resources. Physical deterioration leads to considerable water waste due to which it is impossible to deliver water in the right amount at right time and the ultimate result is reduction in irrigated areas; and the ultimate toll is economic performance. 8.2. Economic Issues The economic and financial issues are intertwined and have their origin in current related policies like water pricing, cost recovery and expenditure prioritization. Despite Government agreeing to revise water rates, the uneconomic old water rates continue even at present. As serious as the financial manifestations of current investment and water pricing policies are their deleterious economic consequences on the production front. Subsidized water rates disenthuse farmers to opt for the tenets of water use efficiency and conservation. 8.3. Institutional Issues The fundamental cause of all critical issues is the weak institutional foundation. The institutional issues include; (1) Gaps and weaknesses in the organization base of water distribution and management; (2) The problems and limitations of existing plan and administration; and (3) Lack of organic linkages between water delivery mechanism and agricultural inputs, credit and extension services. 9.0. Strategies and Perspectives 9.1. There is urgent need to reform the current irrigation policy and strategy to further its contribution to agriculture, generate employment, income and economic growth. Such reforms shall gear up the irrigation sector to effective distribution for production optimization, accept challenges induced by economic liberalization, grass root level demand for decentralized policy and making management accountable. The performance improvement strategy would provide an opportunity for redressing the irrigation sector and thus making it more responsive to current as well as future

Technical Digest Issue - 6 needs. The proposed strategy therefore involve a shift: a) From the current emphasis on physical expansion to performance improvement; b) From the current focus on water supply with limited goal of agricultural production to focus irrigation as a critical tool for augmenting production and bring efficiency in its use; c) From Government control to client oriented focus; d) From dependency on Government budget to collection of commercial water charges; e) From Government controlled institutions to commercially oriented, effective and efficient autonomous service institutions with minimum overall costs; and f) From Government ownership to privatization and participatory management. 9.2. The above strategy calls for simultaneous intervention in the institutional, financial, technological and social areas. Irrigation agencies need to be restructured, water users association (WUA) fostered for operation and maintenance of irrigation works, expenditure reprioritized and water rights introduced. The action plan to effect these changes is suggested below: 9.3. Restructuring of Irrigation Departments 9.3.1. The Irrigation Departments are required to be reformed and restructured to accept new challenges for: (1) Making them more autonomous, less construction oriented and more client focussed; (2) Improving their internal structure and making them more decentralized; (3) Enhancing their internal and external communications and linkages; and (4) Enhancing their skill and performance. 9.3.2. The specific modalities of restructuring would differ from state to state and might be situation specific. To make the Irrigation Departments more client focussed, it is necessary to develop political and administrative will, staff incentives and rewards systems, internal communications and feedback mechanisms as also skill updating. The financial self sufficiency by the new institutions (e.g., WUAs, NGOs, Private Sector Firms, Autonomous Service Institutions) could be achieved through recovery of the recurrent cost by revising the water rates, cutting down administrative cost without compromising on quality and efficiency and promoting irrigation management transfer. 9.4. Irrigation Management Transfer 9.4.1. The past two decades emphasized on addressing the management dimensions of irrigation but this management focus sought ways to improve the performance of irrigation, managers did not address the more fundamental issue of who those managers should be. It was assumed that the management would continue to be with the Government and that the role of farmers would be only as a tertiary willing participants. However, recently there has been an active thinking and action on transfer of irrigation works to farmers or NGOs. Recognizing the fact that irrigation management transfer is an evolutionary process, Water Users Association will have to be created in a phased manner. The Bharat Chamber of Commerce and the participatory management of the tubewell by the Panchayats in West Bengal have proved successful. Promoting irrigation management transfer involves legal, financial, social changes. The State Government may have to play a greater and intense role for such a transfer and NGOs can play a catalyst role in organizing farmers to develop and manage their water resources. The financial institutions may have to provide funds to the WUAs for their success. 9.4.2. Many of the tasks currently carried out by the national and state governments can be performed by the private sector firms who are becoming more and more sophisticated and can provide a more focussed approach for creation and effective management of the resources. 10.0. Points Need Attention 10.1. The design and performance of public irrigation system still follow some principles, which are not any more in tune with the current and future needs of the farmers and the country. Most schemes do not operate as planned. It would be a mistake to rehabilitate existing schemes or design new ones without using more advanced design principles and co-managing these with the private institutions and farmers. Many changes in the present concepts of water supplies are overdue particularly in regard to: (a) Increasing irrigation intensity; (b) Recycling surface irrigation water; (c) Developing conjunctive use; (d) Improving canal efficiency; (e) Introducing dynamic regulations; (f) Transfering completed works to farmers; and (g) Improving water management at chak level and ensuring simultaneous completion of on farm development works. 10.2. To sum up, to fulfill the tasks ahead, would entail: a) Reforming the State Irrigation Department by putting them on a sound financial basis and improving their linkages with the agricultural institutions; b) Fastening the creation of Water Users Association (WUA) and turn over of irrigation projects for effective management, O & M care of the minor and distribution canals; c) Establishing the water rights; and d) Rehabilitating and modernizing the irrigation systems. 10.3. Improving irrigation-financing would entail upon making the Irrigation Departments autonomous and selffinancing through increased water charges, improving collection rates and developing instruments to capture private sector investments in development and management. The thrust of the new strategy would be on integrated approach to irrigation performance and agricultural growth, where reforming both the irrigation system and the irrigated agriculture interface would be the primary vehicle for sustainable agricultural growth.