Irrigation scheme lacks focus on water-deprived districts: paper
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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship scheme that promises to bring water to every farm fails to focus on India’s most irrigation-deprived districts and, surprisingly, does not include practices that led to the success of irrigation schemes in states such as Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, said a policy consultation paper presented by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) on Monday.
The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, with funding of Rs.50,000 crore to be spent between 2015 and 2020, needs to target its energies and resources on the 139 districts where the bulk of India’s irrigation-deprived farm holdings are concentrated, the paper said.
The recommendations come at a time when large swathes of India are dealing with back-to-back droughts and farm distress, leading to a severe shortage of drinking water in several states.
The IWMI consultation paper adds that the lion’s share of the PMKSY funding is for 23 large irrigation projects which will not benefit states such as Bihar, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal which are home to a large chunk of India’s rain-fed farm holdings.
“After 67 years of irrigation investment, 6.8 crore out of India’s 13.8 crore farm holdings have no source of irrigation whatsoever,” said Tushaar Shah, senior fellow of IWMI, presenting the findings. “Without a groundwater development component for the country’s irrigation-deprived geography, it is neither possible to ensure Har Khet Ko Paani nor to double farm incomes in five years.”
The policy consultation also discussed how Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states such as Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh expanded irrigation coverage by over 10% every year since 2001 and, in the process, achieved high farm growth rates.
Both Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan used irrigation as a political strategy and ran massive media campaigns claiming personal credit for double digit agricultural growth rates, the paper said.
It added that these two performers spent little compared to the massive sums spent on irrigation by states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, where the index of net irrigated area has remained flat over the years.
According to IWMI, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh realised that big dams and canals are of little use unless farmers have year-round, on-farm water control. Towards this, Gujarat under Modi ensured quality supply of farm power by rural feeder separation, while in Madhya Pradesh, Chauhan issued lakhs of temporary winter season power connections for wheat irrigation. Besides, the states concentrated on improving management of distributing canal water by revitalizing the bureaucracy, constructed check-dams and farm ponds, and ensured that irrigation tanks were desilted and deepened.
In its present design, PMKSY mostly focuses on converging existing central schemes rather than envisioning a bold new programme building on the success of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, the consultation paper said.
It added that besides building on these success stories, the Centre can also recognize the game-changing potential of solar pumps and promote the use of waste water in peri-urban agriculture.
The paper added that ‘per drop, more crop’ or irrigation efficiency -- another of Modi’s catch phrases -- will have significance only when farmers have access to irrigation water via ground water or lift irrigation schemes.
“We have to improve the management of irrigation systems to ensure that our investment delivers,” said Amarjit Singh, secretary of the water resources ministry at the policy consultation, adding, “there is an inherent inequality in large irrigation projects that we are trying to move away from.”
Work on Modi’s slogans of “water to every field” and “per drop more crop” moved at a slow pace in the past two years, until 2016 came with images of parched farms and a growing shortage of drinking water. Irrigation got a shot in the arm in the budget this year—in addition to Rs.5,717 crore for PMKSY, a special long-term fund of Rs.12,517 crore was created to fast-track pending irrigation projects.