In India, irrigation has a crucial role in agriculture and rural development. Over the years, it has gained traction, with a greater focus on major multipurpose irrigation projects. The government has made concerted efforts to promote infrastructure creation through various flagship initiatives. One such programme is the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY), approved for implementation by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs during 2021-26 with an outlay of Rs 930.68 billion. In addition, schemes like the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme, and the Har Khet ko Paani and Watershed Development components have been approved for continuation during 2021-26.
A look at the recent trends in the irrigation sector and the way forward…
Adoption of micro-irrigation
Given the stress on finite water resources and fast depleting groundwater, micro-irrigation has gained prominence over conventional flooding methods of irrigation. Micro-irrigation techniques such as drip and sprinkler irrigation are gradually emerging as demand-driven technologies. According to the latest report released by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), Andhra Pradesh is a leader in micro-irrigation implementation, ahead of other states in the country. The total land cultivated under micro-irrigation in Andhra Pradesh is 51 per cent. It is followed by Karnataka (49 per cent), Maharashtra (34 per cent), Tamil Nadu (29 per cent) and Gujarat (22 per cent). Punjab and Haryana are the two states with the lowest number of farmers using the micro-irrigation technique.
In March 2022, the Andhra Pradesh government decided to resume its micro-irrigation scheme, mainly to promote horticultural crops. Many sub-schemes under the micro-irrigation scheme had been kept on hold for the last
three years due to a shortage of funds. The government has extended a 90 per cent subsidy for the implementation of drip irrigation systems. Farmers, particularly from Rayalaseema district and upland areas in Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore districts, are expected to benefit from the revival of the scheme. Further, the government has decided to cover 0.4-0.45 million acres of the area under the micro-irrigation scheme during 2022-23.
In a step towards water conservation, the Haryana government has also launched a state-level flagship programme on the drip irrigation method to meet the water requirements of farmers. In June 2022, the state organised a one-day seminar and demonstration for the farmers to increase awareness regarding drip irrigation at 7,500 locations across the state, where the water depth is below 100 feet. Under this scheme, 1,445 villages have been identified with a water table below 100 feet depth for the implementation of the drip irrigation system. Farmers are also being motivated to grow crops that consume less water and adopt the drip irrigation method, which will help in the consumption of the right amount of water while maintaining groundwater levels.
Due to the rapidly declining groundwater level, issues related to the cost of irrigation and the efficiency of water use have taken centre stage in recent years. To ensure the judicious use of water in farming, the central and state governments are actively promoting micro-irrigation in the farm sector. As per an impact evaluation study of the micro-irrigation scheme carried out by the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, it was found that water savings in micro-irrigation in comparison with flood irrigation are 30-50 per cent, with an average of 32.3 per cent. These water-saving benefits of micro-irrigation have helped it evolve from a forced technology to a much-desired and demand-driven technology.
Solar pumps have proven to be a feasible and non-polluting source of energy for agricultural users. The Government of India launched the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evamUtthaanMahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM) with the objective of providing energy and water security to farmers, and reducing the use of diesel in the farm sector. To achieve these objectives, the scheme has set three main targets — 10,000 MW of decentralised ground-mounted grid-connected solar power plants (Component A); installation of 2 million stand-alone solar-powered agricultural pumps (Component B); and solarisation of 1.5 million grid-connected agricultural pumps including through feeder-level solarisation (Component C). This scheme is a demand-driven scheme and capacities are allocated based on the demand received from the states.
Further, the replacement of existing diesel pumps with solar pumps helps reduce irrigation costs by around Rs 50,000 per year. However, the pace of installation of solar pumps in the country has been significantly affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To compensate the implementing agencies for challenges faced due to supply chain disruptions, and capital and liquidity issues, the government has provided multiple extensions. Despite this, of the 0.36 million solar pumps approved under the scheme, only 0.12 million have been installed under Component B, as of June 30, 2022. As per the latest updates, Rajasthan (44,340), Haryana (36,793) and Punjab (10,131) are the top three states with the highest number of solar pump installations under PM-KUSUM.
Other state-level initiatives
The Telangana government is planning an innovative initiative, that is, irrigation tourism, to attract tourists to major irrigation projects that would be developed into tourist spots. This unique concept is being taken up by the state government to increase awareness about irrigation projects that have been developed in the state in the past eight years and make Telangana an agricultural hub. Some of the irrigation projects developed by the state are the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation scheme, India’s largest scheme, with a massive canal system and a series of reservoirs like Annaram, Sundilla, Medigadda, Yellampally, Mid-Manair, Mallannasagar, Konda Pochamma, Ranganayaka Sagar and Baswapur. The state is also developing tourist spots at existing irrigation projects like Kalvakurthy, Karivena, Sriramsagar, Ramappa and Devadula. The state government had allocated Rs 7.5 billion in the state budget towards the development of irrigation projects as part of its efforts to build an ecotourism circuit.
The way forward
With the increasing demand for groundwater from the farm and non-farm sectors, enhancing irrigation efficiency is critical for sustainable agriculture. Going forward, greater emphasis should be laid on micro-irrigation, which can help improve water efficiency. Further, the states should launch schemes to encourage the use of water-efficient technologies for crop production. Moreover, micro-irrigation should be supplemented with the creation of water harvesting storage structures and launch of related afforestation/in-situ moisture conservation schemes in overexploited water zones in order to recharge aquifers. There is also a need for a streamlined process, covering all the steps, from application and installation to subsidy payment for micro-irrigation equipment. A sustained programme for micro-irrigation that brings together financing support, operational support and technical assistance is also essential. Furthermore, the government is working towards increasing the country’s solar water pump manufacturing capacity. It targets to install or solarise 3.5 million pumps through central financial support under PM-KUSUM. Further, the government is also encouraging the direct participation of manufacturers of solar pumps and solar photovoltaic modules either as sole bidders or members of a joint venture in bidding for Component B or Component C.