In this article we will discuss about the problems of irrigation with policy recommendations to solve it.

Problems of Irrigation:

The problems posed by the irrigation development programme in the country can be classified into three groups as follows:

(I) Problems Relating to the Creation of New Capacity:

The problems relating to the creation of new irrigation capacity in India have been large and varied in number.

Some of these can by spelled out as follows:


(1) Delay in the Completion of Major Irrigation Projects:

A number of major multi-purpose river valley projects that were expected to give a boost to the irrigation potential in the economy were started during the Second and the Third Plans, i.e., almost 40 -45 years age Quite a few of these projects have as yet to be completed.

Delay in the completion of these projects has been caused by a number of factors, some of which are:

a. a lack of thorough investigation before the start of projects,


b. changes in the size and nature of projects after starting work on them,

c. a lack of organisation to monitor the progress on the work, and

d. difficulties of getting adequate and timely requirements of such important materials as steel, machinery, cement, etc.

(2) Rising Costs:


The average cost per hectare of irrigation potential created has risen steeply from around Rs. 1,060 during the First Plan to projected over Rs. 38,800 presently. Among the factors that have reportedly contributed to such increase in real costs are the following: availability of comparatively better sites for construction in earlier plans; inadequate preparatory surveys and investigations leading to substantial modification in scope and design during the construction; the tendency to start far too many projects than could be accommodated within the lands available for irrigation; larger provision for measures to rehabilitate people affected as well as for preservation of environment and ecology; and adoption of more sophisticated but expensive criteria for irrigation project planning in conformity with requirements of external aid agencies.

(3) Lack of Well-investigated Projects in in the Pipeline:

Since the 1970s a sort of a vacuum in the irrigation development programme has emerged. Old projects were not being completed, new projects were not available. This vacuum has badly hit the irrigation development programmes during the last three decades or so.

(4) Inadequacy of Finance and Organisation:

Inadequacy of organization has manifested itself in different ways:

a. There is not enough of data in respect of water nor of soil which is the medium of using water,

b. There is too much centralisation of decision making which often has resulted in delay.

c. There is no organised machinery to deal with, the problem relating to the acquisition of land and resettlement of persons likely to be displaced by construction of storage reservoirs.,

d. There is a lack of apex organisation which draws plans of the development of water resources for multiple uses such as drinking and industrial uses, etc.


The recent response of the government has been to set up the Accelerated irrigation Benefit Programme. It will assist the states to accelerate the completion of unfinished, medium and major irrigation projects, and also to undertake reforms by revising user charges and setting up of water users associations.

(II) Problems Relating to the Existing Capacity:

The problems relating to the existing irrigation projects can be divided into two parts:

(i) The problem of underutilisatiory and

(ii) The problem of drainage, congestion, water logging, mal-distribution and wastage of water, etc.


(1) Underutilisation of Potential:

The problem of underutilisation of the irrigation potential has been a serious problem confronting us since the First Plan itself. More man 10 per cent of the total irrigation potential remains un-utilised.

Underutilisation has been mere on account of causes like:

a. lack of coordination between the departments of agriculture and irrigation at the project formulation stage;


b. failure to carry out adequate soil surveys and assess suitability of the land and soil for irrigation;

c. failure to minimize conveyance losses and associated problems of water logging and soil salinity;

d. structural inadequacies with the main system and consequent, inability to deliver the right quantity of water at the right time to the irrigation outlets;

e. absence of field distribution system, water control structures and farm drainage facilities;

f. failure to formulate appropriate cropping patterns based on water availability and soil characteristics;

g. failure to get land shaped and levelled;


h. absence of infrastructural facilities like roads, marketing, credit etc., and

i. lack of farmer organisations and proper extension services.

The recent response of the Government to problem has been the strengthening of the Command Area Development Programme (CADP). The CADP was originally launched in 1974-75 to execute on-farm development works like construction of field channels, land-leveling and shaping and construction of field drains. A new initiative,”Hariyali’ intending to strengthen the technical capabilities of panchayati raj institutions for implementing the existing watershed development programmes has launched on January 27, 2003.

Another important development has been the significant shift in the government’s approach in the form of emphasis on participatory irrigation management for distribution of water by beneficiaries themselves and taking up the maintenance and operation upto apportion of irrigation system. The government has activated the second phase of the National Water Management Project.

(2) Problem of Drainage:

Irrigation has also raised the problems relating to drainage, congestion, waterlogging, mal-distribution and wastage of water, etc. Canals and road construction interfere with natural drainage.


(3) Problem of Floods:

Rivers are the most effective natural drainage system, and any unplanned interference with them is bound to have its repercussions on the natural drainage and, therefore, on the incidence of floods in a country with the rainfall concentrated in short periods.

(4) Lack of Coordination between Irrigation and Agricultural Development:

Changes in the cropping pattern and practices alter the demand for water both in the volume and the time of its supply. The irrigation authority takes action to adjust the supply to changes in demand after a considerable time lag. Consequently, a proper use of irrigation facilities has been quite a delayed process.

(III) Financial Returns from the Irrigation Sector:


Financial returns from the existing irrigation facilities have been very low. For example, a recent study of the Chambal irrigation project revealed that the revenue from irrigation fell short of even the working expenses, by 73 per cent. This has been largely due to the fact that the existing pricing formula for irrigation water has no relation to the cost structure.

The Vaidyanathan Committee which recently went into the whole issue of costing and pricing of irrigation water has highlighted the need to reverse the flow of low return from the irrigation setter. The committee has made specifies recommendations as to how the water rate structure can be modified, implemented arid the irrigation systems made self-sustainable.

Policy Recommendations:

In view of the above problems, following recommendations can be made:

(i) Large public and private investment for expanding the irrigation system to accelerate agricultural growth and to meet the needs of food security;

(ii) More efficiency in managing the irrigation system;

(iii) Speedy exploitation of irrigation potential from major and medium sources;


(iv) Completion of on-going projects, improvement in the utilisation of irrigation potential and expansion of rural electrification in the eastern region and replacement of high-cost diesel pump sets;

(v) Ensuring a conjunctive use of surface and ground water;

(vi) The original Gadgil formula, which, earmarked 10 per cent of the total resource to the State Plans for major and medium irrigation and power projects should be revived;

(vii) A major part of saving of fertiliser subsidy be given to States as grant for irrigation expansion; Suitable incentives be extended for advancing hi-tech irrigation systems like the microprocessor-based drip irrigation technology that has proven ability to save 25 per cent chemical fertilisers, halve the water used and nearly double the yields;

(viii) Farmers stakes in irrigation work be raised by conferring on them some degree of. co-ownership the irrigation system; and

(ix) A comprehensive watershed management plan need be formulated and effectively implemented.