Continuing huge spending on major irrigation projects will not contribute to doubling of farmers’ income
“Transform, Energise and Clean” or TEC India was the agenda of the 2017-18 Union Budget. The budget included many “wishes” and also identified ten “distinct themes to foster the broad agenda”. The very first theme is doubling farmers’ income in five years. Specific interventions were outlined for this theme: a) Agricultural credit increased to Rs 10 lakh crore, b) corpus of Rs 40,000 crore for NABARD’s Long Term Irrigation Fund, c) Rs 5,000 crore to micro irrigation, d) a budget provision of Rs 9,000 crore for crop insurance—Fasal Bima Yojana—to increase coverage of cropped area from 30 per cent to 40 per cent and take it to 50 per cent in 2018-19, e) Rs 8,000 crore for infrastructure development fund for dairy.
Irrigation was an important input for improving crop productivity until 1980. But continuing to spend on major irrigation projects is certainly not going to double the income of the farmers.
Government spending increased from Rs 380 crore in the first five-year plan (1951-56) to Rs 256,000 crore in the twelfth five-year plan (2012-2017). But the cost of creating one ha area under irrigation increased from Rs1, 600 in the first five year plan (1951-56) to nearly Rs160,000 in the tenth plan (2007-08). Now the cost in some projects is more than a million.
The benefits of such massive spending on irrigation did not reflect adequately in
a) increase in area of Major and Medium Irrigation (MMI)
b) any visible impact on productivity of major and medium-irrigated lands
c) any significant increase in income to farmers.
Still, there are 166 major irrigation projects in various stages of completion and estimated cost to complete these projects is Rs 223,000 crore.
The net and gross area under irrigation in 1950-51 was 21 million ha and 22.56 million ha respectively. This increased to 68.1 million ha and 95.77 million ha by 2013-14. However, the bulk of this increase in net area happened due to ground water irrigation, entirely developed by farmers.
The small and marginal farmers have contributed a great deal to development of irrigation. This is largely through constructing wells, bore wells and tube wells. Famers have added more than 50 million ha of net irrigated area in the country without any government investments. There are 19,757,000 bore wells together irrigating more than 60 per cent of the net and gross irrigated area in the country.
Irrigation projects have become a huge opportunity for private sector to bag large contracts. Most often, the cost of creating each ha of land under irrigation runs into millions of rupees. The operational cost of these projects often exceeds the value of the crops produced in the land.
Spending on irrigation projects certainly leads to income of contractors, but it is highly unlikely that will add any additional area or ensure additional income to farmers. A transformation in resource allocation with a focus on promoting sustainable agriculture can help. The following components can be considered:
Hopefully, 2018-19Budget will begin with real efforts to promote sustainable agriculture with less water and less chemical fertilisers by initiating programmes mentioned above with specific budget provisions. A centrally-sponsored sustainable agriculture programme with comparable budget allocation of Rs 50,000 crore is the need of the hour. Such programmes need an institutional mechanism to design and implement the proven methods to reduce water, chemicals, while significantly improving the productivity at farm level and improving rural employment.
There is need to create demonstrable models which can double the income of farmers while saving water.
Many state governments are promoting methods such as SRI and SCI, but in very small scale and with very small budgets. They have no institutional mechanism to scale up. It is time to invest in these methods.
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