Plan panel pushes irrigation projects to bolster food security

Plan panel pushes irrigation projects to bolster food security

New Delhi: The Planning Commission has approved irrigation projects worth an estimated 2 trillion over the past year-and-a-half to bolster India’s food security, but analysts say most of the money will not be utilized because of corruption and poor execution.

A total 141 projects costing 1.3 trillion were cleared in 2010 alone, according to an internal Plan panel paper on investment clearance of flood control, major and medium irrigation projects and renovation and modernisation of existing projects. Mint has reviewed a copy of the paper.

“Normally, the Planning Commission clears projects up to 50,000 crore a year," said an official at the Plan panel, asking not to be identified. “But with a massive focus on food security, around 165 irrigation projects with an estimated cost of over 2 trillion have been approved in the last 18 months."

Of this, 60,000 crore of this sum has been utilized, the official added.

As much as 46% of Indian children below three years of age were malnourished in 2006, according the latest available government data.

The percentage of poor people in the country is estimated to be 37.2% of the population, according to a 2009 report by an expert group led by Suresh Tendulkar, a former chairman of the National Statistical Commission.

The government wants to implement a food security law to make food a basic right.

India has 59 million hectares under irrigation. Though the highest in the world, it’s still just a third of the country’s arable land.

Much of the amount approved by the Plan panel for irrigation will not be utilized because of corruption, poor implementation of projects and environmental activism, analysts said.

Uttam Sinha, an analyst at the strategic policy research agency Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, said focus on irrigation means boosting per capita irrigated area and prioritizing food security, which is the biggest challenge facing the nation.

“Our irrigation schemes have been engineering dominant, essentially practised through large storage-based systems—major and medium projects and transfer of water," Sinha said. “A need for balancing this with water conservancy development through local efforts will be important as is the proper assessment of cropping pattern and soil characteristics and even understanding the dynamics of the local society," he said.

A.K. Bajaj, former chairman of the Central Water Commission, said irrigation projects falter because of leakages and activists who oppose such projects. “Projects started in 1980s have been pending," he said.

Water is under the jurisdiction of state governments and that complicates the issue further, Bajaj added.

The Union government supports states on irrigation projects through the accelerated irrigation benefit programme (AIBP), command area development programme and state plans.

The outlay for AIBP in this fiscal’s budget is 12,600 crore, compared with 11,500 crore last fiscal.

States have to match funds, which may range from 75% of the Centre’s contribution for developed states to 10% for special category states, such as northeastern states and drought-prone states. The Centre’s allocation remains unutilized if the states don’t make their contributions.

The ministry of water resources is also looking at attracting private entities in irrigation through public private partnership (PPP) projects.

“We are finalizing the resources that will be required to be put in the sector during the 12th Plan (2012-2017)," said a ministry official, asking not to be identified. “And we are increasingly thinking of involving the private sector through PPP models. In a couple of months, we will come up with some concrete plans."