To bring more land under irrigation, the Indian government is considering a separate fund for financing 14 national irrigation projects. These projects will include cross-border projects, which require international treaties, inter-state projects that are disputed and intra-state projects with additional potential of at least 100,000ha.
The projects are intended to also help achieve a 4% or more growth in agriculture during the 11th Plan (2007-12) period.
Irrigation projects are largely run by states, with the Centre giving grants under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP). A total outlay of Rs50,000 crore has been earmarked under this scheme in the 11th Plan.
“A group of ministers (GoM) looking into continuation of AIBP in the 11th Plan, headed by Sharad Pawar, minister of agriculture, food and public distribution, has felt the need to have a different implementation strategy that may be required for running of national irrigation projects,” said a government official close to the development but who did not wish to be identified.
He also said the GoM is expected to finalize a scheme shortly, which may be different from the AIBP scheme.
Once finalized, the matter will be sent to the cabinet for approval. Under AIBP, the Union government’s assistance ranges between 25% and 90%.
The national projects, identified by the ministry of water resources, are likely to cover irrigation projects on the Teesta, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers, the waters of which are shared with neighbours Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The national project concept will also expedite inter-state irrigation projects, such as those on the Yamuna, where Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Uttarakhand are involved, a senior official in the ministry said.
“Projects on rivers passing through several states tend to create problems relating to sharing of costs and benefits, hence such projects can get better treatment if the Centre takes the major responsibilities of funding, monitoring and implementation,” he said.
Water experts in the Planing Commission, however, doubt the feasibility of these projects. “The total costs of 14 such projects are working out to over Rs53,000 crore. Even if a time period of 10 years is considered for executing them, it will cost the Centre somewhere around Rs5,000 crore a year, which makes it a costly affair,” said a senior Plan panel official who did not wish to be identified.
He added the government is having problems meeting funding requirement under AIBP. “How will it raise funds for these additional projects?” So far, it has sanctioned only 41% of the Rs8,580 crore sought in this fiscal for AIBP, which is behind schedule, with only one-third of the targets being met by the end of March.