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Eleventh Plan On Water Resources:URGENT NEED FOR BETTER MANAGEMENT, by T.D. Jagadesan Print E-mail

Events And Issues

Eleventh Plan On Water Resources


By T.D. Jagadesan

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has called for a paradigm shift in dealing with water management as the Government could not continue to subsidise the economic and commercial use of water. He underscored the importance of efficient, economical and more rational use of water especially in irrigation, construction and other sectors.

Inaugurating the first-ever National Congress on Groundwater, organized by the Union Ministry of Water Resources, last month, Singh stated: “Providing free power to farmers has encouraged excessive use of pump sets and excessive drawl of ground-water. If there is economic pricing of power, there would be some incentive for conserving groundwater, water conservation and management can be better served through appropriate incentives and penalties.”

Water is a critical input for agriculture and it called for more effective utilization of the existing irrigation potential, expansion of irrigation at an economic cost where possible and better water management in rainfed areas where assured irrigation is not possible. Clearly, in this area past policies have been inadequate and the performance in expanding irrigation has been disappointing. Thanks to resources being spread thinly over many projects and a large number of irrigation projects remaining under construction for many years.

The Bharat Nirman programme envisages creation of 1 million hectares additional assured irrigation during the four year period (2005-2009). To achieve this, the pace of potential creation, according to hydrologists, will have to increase from 1.42 million hectares per year in recent years to 2.5 million hectares per year.

Of the new potential envisaged under Bharat Nirman, about half is planned for the first two years (2007-08 and 08-09) of the Eleventh Plan. Assuming the same rate continues thereafter, a total of about 11 million hectares of new potential can be expected in the 11th Plan consisting of 5.5 million hectares in major and medium irrigation, 3.5 million hectares through minor irrigation and about 2.0 million hectares through ground water development. In addition, another 3-4 million hectares of land is to be restored through modernization of major, medium, and minor projects and restoration of tanks.

Investments in the major and medium irrigation sector will require large resources from the State governments supported by Central Assistance under the AIBP. However, prioritization by proper cost-benefit analysis and timely implementation of these projects by State Governments is also important. As is regular monitoring by the Central Water Commission. It is proposed to expand the usage of remote sensing techniques, initiated on a pilot basis in the 10th Plan, for this purpose.

Along with the expansion of irrigation facilities, the Government should ensure that water is distributed equitably and used efficiently. The pattern observed in the past, where tail-enders are denied water because upper-end-ushers appropriate it for highly water intensive crops must be avoided.

Towards that end, Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) by a democratically organized water user association empowered to set and collect charges, and retain a substantial part of the collection, would help to maintain field channels, expand the irrigation area, distribute water equitably and provide the tail-enders their just share of water. Experience in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat has shown the effectiveness of such a PIM. The 11th Plan must expand reliance on the PIM on a large scale.

Water is also critical for rainfed as well as un-irrigated land which accounts for more than 60 per cent of the cultivable area. Water conservation and ground water management is vital for these areas and will, therefore, need much more focused attention.

According to planners, in some regions, particularly, the lower Gangetic plains and Assam there is a vast scope to utilize the abundant ground water which can quickly add to output. Tapping this potential must be an essential part of 11th Plan strategy. In other regions, there is urgent need for discipline on groundwater use to avoid the deepening agricultural crisis in dry land areas.

Besides, some policies followed by the State Governments encourage wasteful use of water. As the NCF has pointed out, having access to cheap power almost doubles the amount of water used per unit crop compared to farmers using diesel pump sets. The continued provision of free power by some State and highly subsidized power by almost all States encourages excessive use of ground water. This is reflected in the fact that semi-critical, critical, and over-exploited areas of groundwater use are increasing and already cover 29 per cent of the blocks in the country.

Watershed management, rainwater harvesting and ground water recharge can help augment water availability in rainfed areas. Micro-irrigation is also important to improve water use efficiency. Building structures for water management and managing them provide immediate opportunities for employment generation in rural areas. The enhanced productivity of land will generate further sustainable demand for labour in rural areas. The National Rainfed Areas Authority would provide for developing concrete action plans for rainfed areas in close consultation with the State Governments. 

A serious effort to addressing water management issues will require a substantial commitment of public resources. With an estimated 80 million hectares needing treatment and average expenditure of Rs.10,000 per hectare, the total requirement of these programmes should be covered by or at least supplemented by the Employment Guarantee programme. At any rate the local level schemes which conserve moisture and recharge ground water should be funded.

Sadly, the 10th Plan target of providing potable drinking water to all villages has not been achieved. Thus, water-borne infections have hampered absorption of food even when intake is sufficient. Clean drinking water is, therefore, vital to reduce the incidence of disease and to check malnutrition. Under Bharat Nirman plans are afoot to cover 55,067 uncovered habitations in 4 years (2005-09). However, rural water supply is beset with the problem of sustainability, maintenance, and water quality.

Hence, though more than 95 per cent coverage was achieved prior to Bharat Nirman, 2.8 lakh out of the 14.22 lakh habitations in the country, have slipped back from the fully covered statues. Another 2.17 lakh habitations have problems with the quality of water; about 60,000 habitations face serious problems of salinity or arsenic and fluoride contamination. These habitations will also be taken up under Bharat Nirman. The 11th Plan will emphasize full and timely realization of the Bharat Nirman targets.

The 11th Plan will also address issues of sustainability by moving away wherever possible from ground water to surface water resources. Where alternate sources do not exist, or are not cost effective, ground water recharge measures will be insisted upon in the vicinity of the project. At the same time, flood forecasting, control and management are also vitally important for many parts of the country.

The Plan will move away from State implemented and managed projects to encourage community owned and managed projects, like the Swajaldhara Programmes. In the 10th Plan, swajaldhara had a limited provision of 20 per cent of the allocation of the Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme (ARWSP). It will need to be up-scaled so that more and more schemes are community managed, reducing the maintenance burden and responsibility of the State. For this purpose, the States will have to fully utilize the funds provided by the 12th Finance Commission. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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