Agriculture is one of the major consumers of groundwater in India due to the absence of volumetric supply of water. The increasing dependence on groundwater has already led to its depletion, resulting in water woes in various parts of the country. As a result, planning and management of water resources has become the need of the hour. To this end, the central and state governments are taking several initiatives such as developing alternative means of irrigation, conducting water audits and encouraging the production of less water-intensive crops. In order to promote the lost traditional wisdom of water conservation, NITI Aayog has undertaken the grading of states based on their water conservation practices. The government also has plans to come up with a campaign that aims to encourage rainwater harvesting throughout the country and promote the storage of rainwater as soil moisture using carbon water sponges. Last year, the National Water Mission under the Ministry of Jal Shakti launched the SahiFasal campaign to nudge farmers in water-stressed areas to grow crops that are not water intensive. The campaign thus aims to discourage the production of paddy, cotton and sugarcane that have a high water footprint in areas that are water stressed. In states such as Punjab, underground water resources are overexploited as this is the source for 70 per cent of irrigation water in the state. The looming water crisis has now shifted the focus of state governments towards better management of water resources.
Irrigation plans of Madhya Pradesh
The Madhya Pradesh government has developed irrigation capacity of 4 million hectares. The available surface water resources in the state, totalling 81,500 million cubic metres (mcm), are managed by the Water Resources Department (WRD) and the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA). The state has created total live storage capacity of 44,563 mcm. Of this, the share of major, medium and minor projects stands at 80 per cent, 6 per cent and 14 per cent respectively. The government is currently focusing on optimising the utilisation of available resources by minimising the gap between created and utilised irrigation potential. In addition, it is also promoting the use of pressurised conveyance and irrigation systems to improve water use efficiency and water productivity. It has managed to reduce the gap between the irrigation potential created and utilitised from 18.2 mcm in 2009-10 to 2.56 mcm in 2019-20.
Currently, a total of 109 pressurised conveyance and irrigation projects are ongoing in the state, with an irrigation potential of 3.22 million hectares and entailing an estimated cost of Rs 820.8 billion. Of these projects, 66 are being undertaken by the WRD whereas 43 are being handled by the NVDA. Further, 26 projects are currently at the proposed stage. These projects involve an investment of Rs 413.5 billion and cover an area of about 1.19 hectares. The capital outlay required to execute these 135 projects projects in the coming five years is estimated at Rs 932 billion. The capital outlay requirement for 2020-21 stands at Rs 79.5 billion by the WRD and Rs 95 billion by the NVDA.
One of the key challenges faced by the state is the adoption of pressurised conveyance systems by farmers, that is, a shift from open flow/canal irrigation to micro-irrigation. Besides, there are no companies that solely offer operation and maintenance (O&M) services after projects are completed, posing another major challenge. Projects are also facing issues pertaining to the limited supply of pumps and valves, and lack of skilled manpower for supervisory control and data acquisition operations, and agencies for project management. Currently, engineering, procurement and construction contracts provide for five years of O&M services. However, once these contracts expire, O&M will pose a major challenge. Ongoing projects have been derailed during the COVID-19 outbreak due to affected supply chains, lack of labour availability, etc. These projects are expected to face completion delays of one season. The revenue streams of the government too have been affected. This will impact proposed projects, which are likely to be delayed by two-three years. Further, the lockdown has adversely impacted the laying of pipelines, which is typically done during the March-June period before the onset of the monsoon.
Capacity addition initiatives by Uttar Pradesh
Over 85 per cent of water consumption in Uttar Pradesh is by the irrigation sector. The state has a total water availability of 233.7 billion cubic metres (bcm), of which 161.7 bcm is in the form of surface water and the remaining is groundwater. It has a gross storage capacity of 20.49 bcm, with the maximum capacity of 13.48 bcm lying in the Vindhya region. The state has witnessed an increase in water demand due to additional areas under irrigation and a change in cropping patterns. In order to bridge the demand-supply gap, the capacities of major dams have been increased.
On the supply front, the irrigation department has taken a number of commendable steps to promote capacity addition in the state. It has replaced four major drainage crossings in the Upper Ganga canal, rebuilt the Nanak Sagar dam, replaced sluices of the ShardaSagar dam and reconstructed the Lalchuraheadworks of the Dhasan canal system. Further, the head discharge capacity of the Upper Ganga canal has been increased from 180 cubic metres per second (cumec) to 300 cumec. Besides, the head discharge capacities of the Eastern Ganga canal and the Agra canal have also been increased to 113 cumec each. The state has also added a storage system on storage-fed canals of the Bundelkhand region and is also actively linking smaller rivers to major ones in order to ensure adequate water flow in the former. In a major development, the Arjun and Chandrawat rivers are being linked to the Dhasan river by the Arjun and Kabrai feeders under the ArjunSahayak project. The project is part of the PradhanMantriKrishiSinchayeeYojana (PMKSY). This has increased the irrigation potential by about 44,000 hectares in addition to the existing capacity of 15,000 hectares. The state is also constructing small dams on untapped rivers. At present, the Rasin, Bhawani, Bhaurant and Bandai dams are nearing completion, and will lead to irrigation capacity of 18,000 hectares in the water-deficient region of Bundelkhand.
Further, in a bid to reduce water losses, it has undertaken selective lining in reaches of high seepage in the ShardaSahayak system, Parallel Upper Ganga canal and Parallel Lower Ganga canal. The state is providing better control structures under the canal distribution system to ensure better water distribution.
On the demand side, one of the key focus areas has been to improve water use efficiency, which is currently rather low at 22-30 per cent. The improvement in water use efficiency involves improvement in conveyance efficiency of distribution systems and application efficiency at the field level. This is being achieved by reducing water losses in filling reach, providing better control structures and adopting new methodologies of irrigation such as sprinkler and drip irrigation. The irrigation department is implementing three sprinkler irrigation projects, namely, the Masgaon-Chilli sprinkler irrigation project, the Kulpahar sprinkler irrigation project and the Shahzad dam sprinkler irrigation project, that are due for completion in 2020-21. Apart from the three ongoing sprinkler irrigation projects, 11 such projects have been planned for the Bundelkhand region.
There are several bottlenecks in the implementation of irrigation projects in the state. First, the current institutional arrangement for canal distribution is highly bureaucratic with limited participation from other stakeholders. There is a need for institutional reforms to deal with structural problems arising due to old irrigation structures. To this end, a legal framework has been created for participatory irrigation management through acts and bye laws. The state also undertakes regular evaluation of water user associations that assess on-farm development works, and ensure equitable distribution of water and proper crop management, etc. The COVID-19-induced lockdown has adversely affected ongoing projects in the state due to labour migration and shortages in raw material supplies. However, the major ongoing projects under the PMKSY – the Saryu National Project, the ArjunSahayak Project and the Madhya Ganga Project – have quickly picked up pace after the state government proactively started construction activities after April 20, 2020, with due attention to physical distancing norms.
Key challenges and the way forward
Micro-irrigation projects are now gaining traction. However, there are challenges faced by contractors in the installation of systems as there is limited time available due to seasonal cropping patterns. The attitude of farmers towards micro-irrigation is not very favourable at present. It is important for the government to step in and encourage farmers by subsidising certain inputs such as water soluble fertilisers. The government can form water users’ cooperative societies during the project conceptualisation stage itself, and this can be effective in spreading awareness about micro-irrigation schemes.
There are various impediments in the execution of projects in the country such as difficulties in land acquisition, inability to obtain statutory clearances, involvement of multiple agencies, lack of interstate coordination, changes in project design and scope, and lack of funding. They pose difficulties for contractors and other stakeholders in the irrigation sector. As a result, there have been long delays in project implementation, resulting in cost and time overruns. The government needs to take appropriate measures to resolve these issues.
Land acquisition still remains one of the key issues that hamper the progress of irrigation projects. The majority of projects are awarded prior to the completion of the land acquisition process. As a result, contractors face several issues during the implementation of projects, which at times comes to complete halt due to the inability to acquire the required land. The government needs to take proactive measures to resolve the lingering concerns in the irrigation sector to ensure timely implementation of projects.
Based on presentations by Vinod Kumar Niranjan, Engineer-in-Chief (Projects), Irrigation & Water Resources Department, Uttar Pradesh; and Y.C. Sharma, Chief Engineer, Water Resources Department, Madhya Pradesh, at a recent India Infrastructure webinar