Budget 2019: Farmers want better irrigation facilities

Agriculture got an unprecedented 144% rise in allocation in the interim budget – from Rs 57,600 crore in the 2018-2019 budget estimates to Rs 1,40,764 crore. However, the amount provisioned for various agricultural schemes, such as the critical irrigation mission, was inadequate. All eyes are on Nirmala Sitharaman now

Mithilesh Dhar

Mithilesh Dhar   4 July 2019 1:53 PM GMT

What is one of the big issues that farmers in India are facing? The Gaon Connection recently conducted a nation-wide survey in 19 states. We asked more than 18,000 respondents, among other things, to comment on various issue plaguing farmers in India.

41% farmers said there is a need to improve irrigation facilities. 29.5% said the fact that farmers don't get fair rates for their produce is also a deterrent. 19.9% said the government should provide farmers with affordable and hybrid seeds.

According to 2017-18 Economic Survey in India, 14.2-hectare land is fertile, but 52% this land is dependent on irregular means of irrigation and erratic rainfall. In India, more than 52% of farming is directly dependent on rain water. In 2015, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi started the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojna (PMKSY). The government had allocated Rs 50 crore budget for the next five years for this.

The PMKSY ensured access to some means of protective irrigation to all agricultural farms in the country to produce 'per drop more crop', thus bringing much desired rural prosperity. The key here is the implementation.

"Irrigation is big problem"

While addressing a summit last year, the Prime Minister had said that along with PMKSY, the government is also working on improving the situation of canals and dams. The government, he had said, is also aiming to take the method of drip irrigation to 26.87 lakh hectare farms.

Those surveyed in the Gaon Connection Survey said the irrigation continues to be a challenge for them. There is a need to come up with policies that are worth implementing in the short term.

While addressing the Upper House, President Ram Nath Kovind had recently said that the government is planning to invest 25 lakh crore in farming. A big portion of this will be spent on micro irrigation.

Farmers are distressed

Awadhesh Kumar, a farmer who lives in Marachi village in Bihar's Siwan district, said: "There is no water in any water bodies. This is the prime reason why farmers are leaving farming. The government should look at increasing the number of tube wells and artificial wells."

Om Prakash, a fellow at Indian Council of Agricultural Research, said: "Irrigation is a big issue. Take for instance Maharashtra. There is no water. The initiatives taken by the government have failed to click. The situation has deteriorated because of irregular monsoon."

America has the most fertile land. India comes close second. According to a report by National Master, until 2005, India had 159.65-million-hectare fertile land whereas America had 174.45-million-hectare fertile land.

According to the World Bank, in 1960, agriculture contributed 44.31% to the country's economy and in 1967 and 1972 the contribution figure stood at 42.768% and 41.16% respectively. But the situation deteriorated post 1972. In 2017, the figure stood at 15.61%. In 2010-11 the total fertile land was 6.47 crore hectare and in 45% of this land, irrigation happened through tube wells, canals and wells.

The government has been taking efforts since 1950-51 to improve irrigation facilities. The total area worth irrigation then was 83 lakh hectares, in 2011 it was 1.7 crore hectare. However, in 1951 the area that was getting irrigated was 40% which in 2010-11 reduced to 26% when percentage of tube wells and wells increased by 64%.

Though number of tube wells has gone up, but there are not many wells left. In 2017, the Water Ministry Published the Fifth Irrigation report. The report mentioned in 2006-07 and 2013-14, there was an increase of 11 lakh tube wells and this figure jumped from 14,60000 to 26 lakh tube wells.

The states that were dependent of tube wells were Punjab, Rajasthan, Andhra, Telangana, Tamilnadu, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The report mentioned that 98.5% had personal tube wells -- 81% were personal owners whereas the rest belonged to farmers' union.

"Irrigation was not an issue earlier, but now is. The government had started some projects here and spent crores of rupees, but the situation has not changed," said Khempal, who lives in Almora, Uttar Pradesh.

Sanjay Kumar, who works with an organisation -- Pramarth -- that works in the area of irrigation in Bundelkhand said, "In the 1980s, Bundelkhand, Mahakaushal and Rivanchal regions were dependent only on wells. There used to be more than 10 lakh wells here. Unfortunately, wells are the only source of irrigation even now, but 96% wells have gone dry."

According to the Water Department report, in 661 districts there were 2.6 million deep wells in the country. These wells are more than 70 meters deep.

Agricultural expert Dr Girish Jha who works with Indian Agricultural institute, said: "Irrigation is very important for farming. If irrigation facilities are good then farmers' input costs will go down and their salaries may go up."

Can we blame the government?

According to Dr Brij Gopal, a water expert from National Institute of Ecology, "The farmers should also learn different means of irrigation. They should learn how to collect water in their fields and make small ponds around their felids."

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