LESSON 6. Shortcomings Of Minor Irrigation Sector

6.1 Introduction

Though small irrigation structures play a dominant role in the development of irrigation potential in the country, it has largely been the irony of the minor irrigation sector that it is neither managed nor monitored in a consistent manner by the local or State governments. State Governments have been apathetic towards appropriate institutional arrangements and sustainable development of surface water in the minor irrigation sector. Part of this neglect is due to very meager public investment. The financial institutions (which are the major investors in the sector) also ignore proper monitoring of the schemes in this Sector.

One of the reasons for the negligence of the sector on the part of the Governments may be the low stake of the Governments in the sector of around 33% only. Majority of the funding is received from the institutional and private sector. As the institutional funding is governed by commercial interest, little attention has been paid to prevent over exploitation of ground water resources. With a short-sighted approach to development, the perceived progress turns counter-productive in the long run.

The investment has been non-uniform, inconsistent and uncoordinated. While large part of the Government investment comes from the Ministry of Water Resources and is reflected in the Central and State Plan outlays, investments from other Central Ministries including the Planning Commission are not directly allocated to the concerned Ministry of the State Government. Under such programmes, funds are allotted through the district authorities who exercise the discretion of earmarking funds to related sectors for overall development of the region. In principle, 20% of sanctioned outlay is required to be invested in water resources sector, which largely constitutes minor irrigation and rural water supply. However, diversion of funds from one subhead to the other is a common feature and there is no clear-cut accountability of the expenditure incurred on specific minor irrigation schemes and potential created thereof.

Minor irrigation has been managed by a plethora of agencies, including Central and State government departments in, Panchayats, NGOs and financial institutions, etc. This makes coordination and planning for a harmonious development more difficult. In view of these shortcomings in the sector, there is need to create a regulatory mechanism for minor irrigation sector at the Central and State level to look after all the aspects of development of this sector.

6.2 Problems Faced in Specific Areas

While the above discussion holds good for Minor irrigation in general, there are identified problems in specific areas which require to be addressed. Among surface water schemes, only 34% are working without constraints and the rest have problems of siltation, reduced inflow and discharge, mechanical breakdown, channel breakdown, etc. Problems of less water discharge and channel breakdown are more common. In groundwater schemes, only 30% of units work without any constraint and issues of low water yield and inadequate power are common. The problems faced in the specific areas of MI Development are described in the following.

6.2.1 Tank Irrigation

Tank irrigation is a traditional and important component of the MI sector which has been practiced in this country for quite a few centuries. In the regions where minor irrigation through tanks has been the ruling resource, almost every village has a tank, managed by local communities initially. Tank administration was taken over by the colonial establishment for generating revenue which led to slow deterioration due to alienation of local communities and absence of investment by them. As per 2001 census, 12.4 lakh of surface water schemes including storage and diversion schemes out of which 2.32 lakh tanks and 1.20 lakh storages are in use along with about 68,800 permanent diversions. 72,198 MI tanks and storage structures have gone into disuse resulting in loss of irrigation potential of 0.94 mha. The technical reasons for low utilization of tanks are attributed to silting up of the supply channels, damage to head sluice or other masonry works, silting up of the old tanks, encroachment of the foreshore lands, non-functioning canal sluices, substantial seepage losses, etc. The decline in tank-fed agriculture has become more rapid during the last three decades, severely affecting agricultural production in several places. The deteriorating tanks have forced the marginal and small farmers into a cycle of deprivation and debt and left them increasingly at the mercy of the vagaries of monsoon.

6.2.2 Ground Water Irrigation

As per Groundwater Estimation Methodology (GEC, 1997), the replenishable groundwater resources have been estimated and the country has been classified into categories of Over Exploited, Critical, Semi critical and Safe from the groundwater development point of view. However, due lack of sufficient information on groundwater development and recharge, true situation in groundwater development is difficult to assess. Further, due to Easement Act, there is no legal framework to ensure that groundwater development takes place only in safe areas. Unguided and unregulated groundwater development by private investors is a major threat to sustainability and equitable development and management of the resource.

In-situ salinity has led to restriction in groundwater development in parts of Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, UP, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Occurrence of concentration of dissolved ions above permissible limits in

 Groundwater is also a constraint in groundwater development. Occurrence of high concentration of Arsenic (beyond the permissible limit of 0.05mg/L) in groundwater has been reported from 79 blocks of 8 districts of West Bengal, viz., Bardhaman, Hoobli, Howrah, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia North and South 24 Paragnas. Arsenic contamination has also been reported from Bhojpur and Patna Districts of Bihar and Balia district of Uttar Pradesh, which is associated with sediments in the Ganga Basin. Use of arsenic contaminated water for irrigation is in vogue and there is a possibility of increased concentration of these constituents in the food products which may lead to detrimental effects on health of the local population.

The factors responsible for poor groundwater development in irrigation sector are generally non availability of assured power supply, lack of public funding and lack of guidance to stakeholders with scientific and technical support / knowledge, subsidized water rates for surface water irrigation etc. Further, use of non conventional energy systems for irrigation pump sets is yet to come to the optimal level of techno economic viability. There is further need to look into groundwater estimation as certain areas which have aquifers of poor yield and are generally not suitable for large scale groundwater development have been categorised as safe areas which gives a wrong impression about the remaining areas which have scope of groundwater development. Such areas are to be categorised / indicated separately for the use of planners. New strategies to develop groundwater in hilly terrain for irrigation need to be framed and encouragement shall be given to such states to implement groundwater development schemes.

6.2.3 Poor efficiency of pumping sets and ground water irrigation

Most of the irrigation pump-sets operate at poor efficiency. There are many parameters, which directly or indirectly affect the efficiency of pumps, viz., depth to water level, improper accessories, irregular maintenance, poor supply voltage, use of non standard pumps, improper pump sizing, etc., which could affect the efficiency of the pump-sets. With increase in number of stakeholders for groundwater in agriculture sector, the land-man ratio has declined from over 0.4 ha/person in 1900 to less than 0.1 ha/person in 2000.

The supply of electricity for irrigation is at very low (below-cost) rates for over two decades. Currently, electricity for irrigation is being supplied free/ subsidized rates. This has resulted in overloading of transmission facilities and frequent disruption in power supply. The erratic power supply has made farmers to install automatic power switch to start the pumps as when the power supply is resumed without actually considering the actual water requirement, resulting in over-irrigation. Such an electricity-water supply scenario has led to: a) overcapitalization of agriculture; b) constrained the growth of agriculture; c) resulted in inefficient use of water, energy and equipment; d) led to a reduction in farm profitability; and e) has increased pollution through increases in CO2 emissions into the environment from the burning of diesel. Alternatively, many farmers are also using local nonstandard pumps resulting in reduction in power use efficiency. It has also been observed that farmers install higher capacity pumps instead of required low capacity pumps due to lack of knowledge and non availability of technical guidance. Agricultural sector is estimated to use about 23% of utility-supplied electricity in the country.

NABARD has been using control of institutional financing for development of wells in overexploited areas. But this approach has by and large been ineffective in checking overdraft due to large-scale private financing in the development of wells. Similarly, the State Electricity Board’s denial of new agricultural power connections in overexploited areas and in critically developed areas when regulations in relation to spacing of wells are violated, has been ineffective due to the use of old power connections for newly drilled wells. Since groundwater development depends directly on energy, management of energy supply and pricing are suggested as more effective indirect options for keeping watch on groundwater extraction in sensitive areas.

The efficiency in groundwater irrigation can be ushered in by improvement in efficiency of the pumping system and in adopting water conservation measures in irrigation. There is a need to specify the capacity of pumps for different types of wells on the basis of depth to water level, type of wells and the yield of the wells in different hydro-geological settings. Smart irrigation practices, viz., drip irrigation and precision farming techniques need to be adopted by farmers and capacity building/awareness programme such as Farmers Action Participatory Programme are to be up scaled country wide.

6.2.4  Constraints in Credit Support

The major constraints in the accelerated growth of credit support for the development of minor irrigation are:

• Inadequate technical guidance to farmers for site location and construction of works especially for bore wells and tube wells.

• Cumbersome loan appraisal procedure and consequent delay in loan disbursement.

• Insufficient technical expertise with financing banks to identify suitable investment and favourable areas for investments.

• Poor recovery of loans extended by banks leading to reduced lending eligibility.

• Lack of co-ordination among different departments and agencies connected with the programmes resulting in poor extension services.

• Incomplete land records.

The issue of credit/subsidy applies in general to groundwater schemes. In surface water schemes, which are generally funded by Government agencies, credit policy is barely an issue. Exceptions are there, however, as some cooperative lift irrigation schemes are sponsored by sugar factories. As private sector involvement is encouraged in farming sector, constraints in credit support could be felt for surface water schemes as well.

Last modified: Thursday, 5 December 2013, 6:11 AM