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Water Water Nowhere, Not A Drop to Drink

Several Expert Group reports are with the government and there is an urgent need to build a consensus on water policies

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Thinking of the state of Indian agriculture in 2028 is not only difficult, but also replete with guess work and day dreaming. Will we see any reforms of the land leasing laws and subsidies on fertiliser, food, irrigation and electricity, for instance? Will there be a free and vibrant market for agricultural commodities?

There are too many imponderables to allow a meaningful insight into the future of agriculture. However, there is certainty about one challenge which will continue to give sleepless nights to policy makers - and that is water.

We can expect to see a most serious situation developing in Punjab and Haryana which have provided food security to the nation since the Green Revolution. Since both the Centre and the states have done nothing to address this issue in any meaningful manner, one can only hope that by 2028 the situation will be so serious that instead of giving free electricity and water, governments may be forced to stop cultivation of non-Basmati rice in Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh.

The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojna is a good initiative, under which 99 irrigation projects were identified for completion by 2019. Several of these projects are however, delayed. If we assume that they will finally be completed by 2021, they will add 7.6 million hectares of irrigated area. One hopes that command area development and water management works will also be completed by 2021.  

The net sown area of the country is 141.4 million hectares. The net area under irrigation is 68.2 million hectares. If we assume that another 7.6 million hectares will be brought under irrigation from 2021 to 2028, we will add about 15 million hectares and the net area under irrigation will rise from 68.2 million hectares now to about 83.2 million hectares.

This will imply an increase in the irrigated area from 48.23 per cent at present to 58.84 per cent by 2028. Most of this addition will happen in Telengana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and farmers in command areas of these projects will be able to earn a higher income.

A Group of Secretaries has recently recommended bringing 10 million hectares under micro irrigation within the coming five years. If we assume addition of 20 million hectares over the ensuing ten years, we can see the area under micro irrigation increase from the current level of 10 million hectares to 30 million hectares by 2028.

Green Revolution Company
Gujarat set up a Green Revolution Company to provide one-stop solution to farmers for micro irrigation. A similar initiative in other states can expedite investment in micro-irrigation. In the next ten years, it should be possible to bring the entire area under sugarcane in Maharashtra under micro irrigation and provide water thus saved to farmers growing cotton and other crops.

Our agriculture is beset with challenges that can be addressed through suitable policies, the most serious being the shortage of water. The problem of depleting water needs long-term investment and resetting of policies. Neither the Centre nor the states can address water related issues on their own.

Even the present government at the Centre has not shown any urgency in addressing the impending water crisis. It has not persuaded states to take unpopular and hard decisions to stop exploitation of ground water.

Several Expert Group reports are with the government and there is an urgent need to build a consensus on water policies.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Magazine 28 April 2018 anniversary special agriculture

Siraj Hussain

The author retired as Union Agriculture Secretary. He is Visiting Senior Fellow, ICRIER

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