1. Money down the drain

Money down the drain

States spent around Rs 6,50,000 crore in the past decade on irrigation and flood control, but irrigated area barely rose, and much of this limited improvement...

By: | New Delhi | Published: June 30, 2015 1:27 AM

States spent around Rs 6,50,000 crore in the past decade on irrigation and flood control, but irrigated area barely rose, and much of this limited improvement was brought about by farmers and not states, reports fe Bureau in New Delhi.

The net irrigated area rose to just 65.3 million hectares in 2011-12 — up to when the latest official data are available — from 60.8 million hectares in 2005-06.

The share of the net irrigated area in the total net sown area rose from 42.1% in 2005-06 to just 46.3% in 2011-12, suggesting roughly 54% of the country’s farmland is still rain-fed and, hence, exposed to erratic monsoons. Even then, tube wells — mostly owned by farmers — contributed to roughly 45% of the total irrigated area, according to a report by Kotak Institutional Equities.

A study of past trends doesn’t offer any solace either. The report said the irrigated area has been growing at a snail’s pace — just 1.3% between 1996 and 2011. Interestingly, even this paltry growth rate was driven mostly by tube wells, irrigated areas under which rose at an annual rate of 2.6% during the period. Between 2001 and 2011, almost two-thirds of the increase in net irrigated area was contributed to by tube wells (read farmers).

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Farmers — either individually or collectively — own an overwhelming 97% of the country’s groundwater irrigation sources, which include dug wells, shallow wells and deep tube wells, the report said. Importantly, as much as 72% of groundwater irrigation sources are funded by farmers through their individual savings. As much as 65% of the irrigation is dependent on groundwater, it added.

Since irrigation is a state subject and the central budgetary allocation for it was barely Rs 3,600 crore for 2015-16, it is hard to find the efficiency of spending by most states, barring a few notable exceptions. As former CACP chairman Ashok Gulati put it, Gujarat boosted gross irrigated area by 2.3 million hectares in the decade through 2010-11 when Narendra Modi was its chief minister, while neighbouring Maharashtra improved its gross irrigation coverage by just 200,000 hectares during the period with double the funds spent by Gujarat. The result also cannot bring in more contrast — the agrarian crisis in Vidarbha and the relative prosperity in the cotton belts of Gujarat.

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