(REPORT) More Dams Come Up But Irrigated Area Declines : Bharat Dogra

(Report) More Dams Come Up But Irrigated Area Declines : Bharat Dogra

Recent official irrigation statistics have revealed a curious situation in which, after spending 25 billion US dollars on various irrigation projects during 1990-2004, the actual area under irrigation declined from 17.4 million ha to 14.3 million ha in the period.

"These statistics are disturbing and need to be examined carefully,’’ said Ramaswamy Iyer, former secretary for water resources and the author of several books on hydrology.

In India, a project with a cultivable command area of more than 10,000 ha is categorised as a major project and that with an area of between 2,000 and 10,000 ha as a medium project. Canal irrigation area peaked in 1991-92 at 17.8 million ha. After this it has been steadily declining, reaching the lowest level of 14.2 million ha in the assessment year 2000-01. It recovered partially at 14.6 million ha in 2003-04, the latest year for which national level net irrigation area figures are available.

Explaining the reasons for this 'believe it or not' type of phenomenon, Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator for the well-known South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said: "One reason for the decreasing area under irrigation is the very high siltation rate of many dams, much more than what was anticipated in the original project reports. Another reason is that people in upstream areas tend to grow highly water-intensive crops so that farmers in tail-end areas end up getting no water all."

Thakkar said that a ‘’lot of water from some important projects is being diverted from irrigation to urban and industrial use''. ''In Hirakund dam area in Orissa, there is an agitation by farmers to oppose diversion of water for industrial use. In the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project the authorities in Gujarat state have diverted water from rural use to big cities and industries. Similar reports have come in from southern Andhra Pradesh."

Another reason is poor maintenance of structures. Gaya Prasad Gopal, a prominent water rights activist in the Bundelkhand region of northern Uttar Pradesh state, says that Banda district, once known for its extensive network of canals, is a typical example. ‘’Due to neglected repair and cleaning, the area under canal irrigation has suffered badly. Recently at the time of an agitation by farmers in Banda, their foremost demand was to improve the existing canal system."

Two months ago, when IPS visited Padui village in Banda, where seven farmers had committed suicide, Pushpendra, a local activist said: ‘’Earlier our village had access to good canal irrigation, but this system has broken down in recent years. With no canal water and deteriorating water conditions, farmers and workers suffered huge economic loss, resulting in several suicides in highly distressed families."

Water logging and salination have become serious problems in many canal-irrigated areas, leading to destruction of productive farmland. This has been identified as one of the causes for the phenomenon of farmers committing sucide in droves in several parts of the country.

India’s Planning Commission admitted in its tenth plan document: "The water use efficiency in most irrigation systems is low, in the range of 30 percent to 40 percent against an ideal value of 60 percent. Many of the irrigation systems have became dilapidated due to silting of canal systems, weed growth, and breakage of regulatory structures,’’ the document laments.

The document noted that after the ground structures of a big project are completed, necessary attention is not given to the smaller channels which actually take water to farmers' fields. The mid-term evaluation says state governments have not been providing adequate budget for command area development.

The evaluation adds that rehabilitation of existing system needs to be taken up on a massive scale, estimated at 20 to 25 million ha. Some 21 million ha of irrigation potential can be realised by improvement in existing projects.

Thakkar said such dismal statistics give strength to the movements in the country against new, large dam projects. These movements have repeatedly said that before thinking of displacing hundreds of thousands of people for mega projects, the existing irrigation potential should be properly utilised.

In December, the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) challenged the clearance given by India’s environment ministry for a major dam that was to have come at Polavaram on the Godavari river in southern Andhra Pradesh state.

Although the government has since obtained a stay on the NEAA order, Thakkar said the point was clear that mega dams were no longer getting easy clearance in this country.

Polavaram, a 150-foot high dam envisages the diversion of 80,000 million cubic feet of waters through a 174-km link canal to the Krishna river under a project that promises irrigation for 291,000 ha and drinking water to 2.5 million people in villages on the project’s route. There would also be more water for Visakhapatnam city, and 960 megawatts of power generation.

While the project is to cost more than three billion dollars it would entail the resettlement of more than 200,000 people.

In 2000 the Planning Commission acknowledged that 25 million persons have been displaced by big water resources projects since 1950. The actual number today is likely to be even higher. Additionally, several serious flood-situations have been caused as a result of the heavy discharge of water from dams.

Courtesy: www.ipsnews.net