Opinion

Latest irrigation scheme, a non-starter

J Harsha | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on August 31, 2015

Where irrigation works: That's more the exception than the norm - Photo: Ch Vijaya Bhaskar

The PM Krishi Sinchai Yojana smacks of poor watershed planning. As with earlier schemes, accountability is absent

The launch of any new scheme by the government always creates a sense of déjà vu. First, priorities, plans and programmes constantly change depending upon who’s in power at the Centre; second, schemes, new or old, deliver identical outcomes.

The Ganga Action Plan (GAP), Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP), MNREGA were all launched with much fanfare with an aim of grandiose transformation of the lives of ordinary Indians. While the GAP continued to make ‘giant strides’ on paper, the reality was that the Ganga got dirtier. Similarly, the MGNREGA had everything on paper — participation, generation of employment and even a website full of data and statistics of achievement. Yet, there is hardly any evidence of MGNREGA achieving grand success; rather, it has been criticised for corruption and mismanagement.

Programmes galore, but…

In July, this year, a new scheme was announced, the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY). This will replace and converge all existing schemes of investment in irrigation at the field level, such as the AIBP, command area development (CAD) programmes, Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) and MGNREGA. It promises better water management, financial management and greater productivity in agriculture. The scheme has been recently approved by the cabinet committee on economic affairs chaired by the Prime Minister with an outlay of ₹50,000 crore spread over a period of five years from 2015-16 to 2019-20.

The inauguration of one programme after another is not new in India. Once they are unveiled their achievement is confined to paper. This is due to poor conception and refusal to learn from failures. The AIBP was launched 19 years ago, but several irrigation projects overshot their target date of completion, not twice but thrice or even four times. Not a single project nor the State government was penalised nor was the grant component converted to loan as penalty for not meeting the target date of completion, in accordance with AIBP norms.

Indefinite delays

Funds continued flowing for projects under AIBP even as they were delayed. In the 19-year history of implementation of AIBP, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India conducted performance audit twice (2004, 2010). It found gross irregularities in the implementation of irrigation projects funded under AIBP, and a mismatch between irrigation potential reported and potential actually created. Norms for AIBP kept changing several times since 1996, but not the standards of accountability. Now, AIBP has been made a sub-component under the new scheme, the PMKSY.

PMKSY too lays down grand objectives of achieving greater water use efficiency, increasing water and agricultural productivity, and avoiding duplication of the various government programmes of water and agriculture management.

Referring to the draft guidelines posted by the department of agriculture and cooperation, (assuming that the same would be largely retained), it is clear that the government has learned few lessons from the failures of the past programmes, in particular, the AIBP.

The PMKSY contradicts the National Water Policy-2012, formulated by the government itself. While NWP-2012 aims at management of water from the perspective of hydrological unit, that is, river basin or sub-basin or watershed, PMKSY envisages water management at the level of the district — a lower order political boundary of governance. Wherever the watershed is divided by several districts, there could be several plans within a single watershed tearing up the watershed in different directions. So, even before the start of the programme, the contradiction of hydrological unit versus district as a unit will torpedo the envisioned objectives of PMKSY.

Ignoring problems

One of the principal causes of the failure of the AIBP was its inability to take land acquisition into account. PMKSY pays little attention to this. The requirement of agencies to possess land first before funding is not in the scheme of PMKSY. Therefore, two of its sub-components, namely AIBP and ‘ Har Khet Ko Pani’ could be adversely affected and can fall short of the target.

While the programme unveils a grand vision of end-to-end solutions — from tapping water source to distribution to water management — in order to increase water and agriculture productivity in the command area, it turns a blind eye to the fact that the command area is not under the control of the government. “Per Drop More Crop” requires higher investment to introduce costly sprinklers and drip irrigation which small landowning farmers cannot afford. The extent of government contribution in the investment of micro-irrigation on behalf of farmers, or incentives for farmers who adopt such micro-irrigation, finds no mention in PMKSY.

Messy affair

PMKSY is a bureaucratic mess. Groundwater specialists have little say, while water managers have been relegated to a supporting role even in the examination of the technical feasibility of irrigation projects. The State level sanctioning committee headed by the chief secretary has been entrusted with the task of sanction and approval.

While specialists are the pillars of innovation and manufacturing in advanced countries, the PMKSY is loaded with generalists in the bureaucracy. The engineering component has been emasculated.

There is also no reference to accountability when there is a failure to meet targets or to formulate any district plans. The tenure of service of the bureaucrats heading the committee is secure, irrespective of the outcome of PMKSY — a key drawback. The results of several past and present schemes such as GAP, MGNERGA, AIBP, IWMP and CAD should have been a lesson for all future programmes not to repeat mistakes. Planners who have conceived PMKSY seem to have completely forgotten this reality. It’s simply a case of old wine in new bottles, all over again.

The writer is with the Central Water Commission. The views are personal

Published on August 31, 2015
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