The water farmers use for irrigation may not be free any more and they may soon be asked to pay a ‘reasonable’ price even if that increases the cost of production, as the larger goal is equitable use and conservation of this natural resource. In an interview with FE, chairman of the committee on doubling farmers’ income Ashok Dalwai said water is often misused because it is free and available in abundance. So, irrigation water should be supplied by installing meter and charged at a reasonable rate to economise its use.
Asked whether it will not add up to the cost of production when the government has been talking about lowering it, Dalwai said farmers at the tail end of a command area always complain of not receiving water because those before them draw huge quantity into their field. The average monthly income of an agricultural household in 2012-13 crop year (July-June) stood at Rs 6,426, against the monthly expenditure of Rs 6,223.
Dalwai also suggested that states can provide subsidy through direct benefit transfer (DBT) or may charge after a farmer exceeds his quota for water. This will discipline water use while helping farmers with water rate concession, he said. Separation of power feeders for domestic consumption and agricultural use and its timely but controlled supply for irrigation could help regulate groundwater use, he added. Dalwai is of the opinion that village communities should be entrusted with the responsibility to collect electricity charges for groundwater irrigation.
According to Ashok Gulati, former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP), water costs are very small part of total costs. “Issue is more important for power pricing for irrigation (groundwater), which needs to be metered. Farmers can be compensated with direct income support on per hectare basis.” The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana was launched in July 2015 with the objective of ‘har khet ko paani’ (water to every cultivable land).
The Dalwai Committee in its report on ‘Input Management for Resource Use Efficiency & Total Factor Productivity’ has suggested that there is an urgent need to bridge the existing gap between irrigation potential created and irrigation potential utilised. It also stressed the efficiency in management of irrigation systems to reduce water leakage and waste due to poor maintenance of distribution systems. It has recommended constitution of users associations for effective water management.
For rain-fed areas, the panel said water conservation, in association with soil conservation practices, should become the core of development package. The limited water available in harvesting structures such as ponds and tanks can be most effectively used for protective irrigation during critical period through drip and sprinkler systems.
A committee under A Vaidyanathan, set up by the erstwhile Planning Commission on ‘Pricing of Irrigation Water’, had recommended: “Volumetric assessment at the level of individual farmers would be both expensive and impracticable. However, it is feasible at reasonable cost to monitor volumes delivered at the distributary outlets at different points of time. The move to full-fledged volumetric pricing cannot be introduced immediately. The proposed rationalisation of water pricing will have to be accomplished in a phased manner.”
However, as many of the recommendations of the Dalwai Committee such as marketing reform, renovation of rural ‘haats’ and their linkage with mandis are getting implemented, it is expected that the suggestion on equitable distribution of water may also be accepted.
By Prabhudatta Mishra