"The problem of drought is recurrent now and has become a major cause for worry, given the fact that almost 75 per cent of water is utilized for irrigation purposes. Rainfall deficit, together with high temperature would not only have adverse effect on agricultural productivity and food security, but may also impinge upon livelihood of a sizeable population dependent on agriculture in the country. A proposal has already been placed to push investments in macro as well as micro irrigations under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana. It would, therefore, be important to know whether the public expenditure incurred largely on major-medium irrigation has contributed to upscale irrigation intensity and accelerate agricultural productivity. If not, then the time is ripe to change gears and make investments focusing on minor and micro irrigation systems, adopt technological and other interventions that yield higher returns and also improve water use efficiency
Inter-state Differentials in Investments in Irrigation
In almost all the developing countries, public expenditure is considered to be a key policy mechanism that contributes in accelerating agricultural productivity in a significant way. An increase in farm productivity is also taken to be a major route to poverty reduction (Mosley 2015). The empirical evidence on productivity enhancing. As well as poverty reducing effects of public expenditure on investments and farm input subsidies are well documents for each country (Fan 2008). Broad that findings in the Indian context show that investments on agriculture R&D, major-medium irrigation systems, and various input subsidies contributed the maximum during the seventies and the eighties. These investments, in conjunction with adoption of MYVs during the green revolution period, significantly helped accelerate private investment, attain higher crop yields and change the country from chronic food deficit to food secure. However a big push in investment in irrigation was given during the 2000s to trigger agricultural growth that had been at its minimal for long. The investment shot up from almost Rs. 94.4 billion during the eighties and the nineties to Rs.240.4 billion during the 2000s at real prices. It grew at a faster rate in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and undivided Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Carrying forward the past practice, a major portion of expenditure (81 per cent) went towards investment in medium schemes and nearly 13 per cent towards minor irrigation works, 1 per cent in command area development and 5 per cent in flood control and some into subsidies on account of canal irrigation. From 2005-06, northern states along with Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha also initiated investments in major irrigation schemes with the result that the average share of capital expenditure on medium projects in total expenditure on irrigation declined to 62 per cent and that of major ones went up to 19 per cent. The investment in the major-medium projects together increased by 3 times, and the same in minor irrigation grew by 2.5 times. The annual rate of growth is certainly higher in investment in major-medium irrigation schemes compared to that in the minor irrigation schemes.
It is worthwhile to mention that, though investment in minor irrigation is relatively small compared to that in medium irrigation, huge expenditure is incurred by the government to provide subsidized power to farmers to pump water from beneath the earth.
Though the rate of investment in irrigation has been total investment and expenditure invariably in each state. Considering the major 17 states, the average share of public investment in irrigation and flood control in total investment was 50 per cent during the eighties, decreased to 41 per cent during the nineties and further reduced to 32 per cent to 4.2 per cent over this period. A relatively lesser preference of the sates towards the matter agriculture, may explain stagnation in areas irrigated by canals and continuous deceleration in agricultural productivity.
Large inter-state disparities in public investment in irrigation are also discernible. Richer states viz. Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra tend to spend more than Rs.2000 per ha on irrigation compared to low income and agriculturally dominant states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Odisha.
Consequent upon increase in investment, the area irrigated by canals has gone up in Odisha, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Karnataka in recent years. But it appears trivial in view of sizeable spending on irrigation from Rs.104 billion to Rs.340 billion in 2000-01 to intensity of public canals is much lower than that of tubewells, which are primarily owned by farmers.
As per official estimates, irrigation potential in the country is 139.9 million hectares. It is expected that 54 per cent of it would be realized from surface irrigation and remaining 46 per cent from groundwater sources. The prospects seem grim as only 63.25 million hectares of area has been irrigated so far, which is 45.5 per cent of the net area sown in the country. The maximum contribution to irrigated is of tubewells at 61.7 per cent, by canals at 26.3 per cent; other sources at 9.3 per cent and tanks at 2.59 per cent respectively. Surprisingly, an increases in net irrigated area achieved from 55 million hectares to 63.25 million hectares during 2000s is attributed mainly to ‘other sources’. The situation is alarming as area irrigated by canals is virtually at a standstill. The picture at the sub national level reveals states to rely majorly on groundwater as a major source of irrigation (Fig.2). certainly, the states, especially the poorer ones depend on canal irrigation and need to step up investment.
Besides the low levels of investment, marked inefficiency in completion of major projects could be holding back states to realize the irrigation potential.
Evidence further shows that the ratio of irrigation potential created from minor irrigation is much higher than that from medium and large irrigation projects. Essentially, minor irrigation projects should be given priority by the policy makers, more so as these structures play a significant role in recharging of wells, drought mitigation and flood control. This would necessitate scaling up investment in rural energy and also some policy controls and checks to avoid excessive withdrawal of ground water.
For long term solutions. Public investment in major-medium irrigation works are not yielding the expected returns implies that the respective state completion of ongoing projects and increase investment efficiency. They should also strategize fiscal policy by reallocating resources from major-medium irrigation, wherever feasible. Accelerating investments in micro irrigation systems, comprising drip and sprinkler irrigation has greater potential to improve water use efficiency, especially in sugarcane and banana. Studies show that micro irrigation helps to save water, reduces the cost of cultivation and improves crop yield. Net return per inch of water supplied through drip irrigation was in the range of 60-80 per cent as compared to conventional irrigation systems. The National Mission on Micro Irrigation should be given high priority.
The newly formed state – Telangana has embarked upon a major project “Kakatiya” under which, water harvesting and management is taki9ng place through revival of traditional tanks and lakes. India’s partnership with Israel to learn and adopt innovative strategies to harness rain water during the recently organized “India Water Week, 2016’ is another useful step in this direction.