Archive for August, 2009

Obsession with Pawar Irrigation.

29 August 2009

Obviously draught is far more important issue for general population than either Swine flu or Jaswant’s Jinnah. However, it still does not explain IE editor talking about it in near identical terms in less than a week. First it was Drought proofing India talking at cross purposes with Drying out. Now we have Canal Plus compounding the earlier erroneous position in Drought proofing India. Gupta seems obsessed with Pawar & Irrigation (that is surface irrigation) utterly unmindful of ground realities.

He muses, “….As has been pointed out in these columns, a well-networked irrigation system is the best long-term defence against drought. Where this has happened, such as in Punjab and Haryana, the thanks are due to Central and regional leaders who saw in the ’50s and ’60s what many of their compatriots cannot see even today. It is no coincidence that while these states are amongst the worst hit by the drought, they have been able to weather it better than others.” While no one will detract from the need to extend irrigation to all arable land if possible in a sustainable fashion, should it follow only the big dam with well networked irrigation system (read canals) paradigm is the question. He ends with an exhortation, “Pawar needs to spell out the big picture, and it’s spelt “irrigation” in large looming letters.”

That big picture means big dams followed by huge network of irrigation canals. That means big money to be made. One ultra mega project of this nature was interlinking of rivers– mercifully it has had a quiet burial. It would have caused more problems than it would have solved. Most dam projects have been found to be substantially wanting when measured against their avowed & projected benefits envisaged at design stage. Precipitation & geographical patterns of rainfall are expected to vary widely in future. Rains may fall in one area, while dams to catch & store them will find themselves in another. Does it mean we inertly accept the fate? No way! Best way out would be to treat whole country as prospective catchment area so that we make best possible use of rains wherever they occur. Distributed watershed management programs will have to be undertaken to suit both local conditions & needs thereby creating a sustainable cycle of recharging groundwater. Ground water has in any case become the single most important source of irrigation & already accounts for over 60% of agricultural needs. While nationwide watershed & water resource management program is massive, the funds required will not be as massive as is the case with myopic focus on mega dams & irrigation canals alone. Watershed management additionally uses local materials, labour, entrepreneurship and generates local employment & incomes too.

Unplanned, indiscriminate & unmitigated groundwater use is another disaster waiting to happen. It is worthwhile to quote at length from a report, The Socio Ecology of Water in India, prepared by IWMI-TATA.

Many people still believe that India’s irrigation water mainly comes from canal irrigation systems. While this may have been true in the past, recent research shows that groundwater irrigation has overtaken surface-water irrigation as the main supplier of water for India’s crops. Groundwater now sustains almost 60% of the country’s irrigated area. Even more importantly, groundwater now contributes more to agricultural wealth creation than any other irrigation source.

Groundwater has emerged as the primary democratic water source and poverty reduction tool in India’s rural areas. It now contributes more to rural wealth creation than surface-water irrigation. Yet State irrigation departments currently focus most of their manpower and budgetary resources on centrally created and managed large canal irrigation systems, allocating only a fraction to groundwater resources. This policy imbalance is a symptom of the fact that the increase in the importance of groundwater over the past 25 years has largely escaped government notice.

Having control over their water means farmers invest more in their crops, and so get higher yields. This benefit of groundwater irrigation helps explain the huge jump in agricultural productivity identified in a recent study by Indian researchers and IWMI.

Thus mindless exploitation of groundwater is not a panacea for all ills. In fact what is required is developing & implementing a sustainable groundwater use strategy. The report has identified 4 stages of present groundwater use : Stage I) Rise in the use of tube well technologies, Stage II) Groundwater based agrarian boom, Stage III) Early systems of groundwater exploitation, and Stage IV) Agriculture decline & crisis. North Gujarat, Saurashtra, South Rajasthan & parts of Tamil Nadu are identified as regions already in the throes of last stage. What it means is change in mindset followed by change in policy for water resource management.