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Farmers in India still dependent on groundwater for irrigation

New Delhi : Groundwater still accounts for 94.5 per cent of all minor irrigation schemes in India, a recent Census report of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation has stated, adding that while there has been an increase in the number of groundwater schemes, number of surface water schemes has gone down between 2006-07 and 2013-14.

This has resulted in growing dependency of farmers on subsurface resources. The report comes at a time when the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) has sent draft guidelines for “issuance of NOC” for groundwater withdrawal and draft “Public Notice” to the Chief Secretaries of all the state and administrators of Union Territories for their comments.

Due to increasing number of litigations in the National Green Tribunal, its various branches are directing CGWA to ensure that the groundwater withdrawal in the country should be in accordance with law. These guidelines will ensure a uniform regulatory framework across the country so that the discriminatory practices in regulation are either mitigated or minimized.

The Census on minor irrigation has found significant growth in the number of groundwater schemes such as dug well, shallow, medium and deep tube wells from 19.75 million to 20.52 million during the 2006-07 to 2013-14 period. The number of surface water schemes such as flow and lift irrigations, however, during the period has dropped from 1.24 million to 1.19 million.

Groundwater still accounts for the lion’s share (94.5 per cent) of all the minor irrigation schemes in the country - irrigation potential created and utilised from groundwater schemes has increased while irrigation potential created and utilised from surface water schemes has declined, the Census noted.

The report has suggested various steps that should be taken to restore surface water sources in order to continue to derive benefits from them and also stop further depletion of underground water table.

Also, groundwater minor irrigation schemes continue to remain under private ownership and most minor irrigation structures in India are owned by individual farmers or group of farmers and hence it has maximum outreach for irrigation.

“Within this, small and marginal farmers (having less than 2 ha of land) still own a major share of minor irrigation schemes. This emphasizes the need for strengthening the network of structures for irrigation purposes in the country which, in turn, will play a crucial role in improving the livelihood of these farmers,” the Census said.

The Census, the fifth so far, was carried out with 2013-14 as the reference year. It noted that overall there has been an increase in the number of minor irrigation (MI) structures across India. It found that there were 21.7 million MI structures in the country in 2013-14 as against 21 million in 2006-07, a marginal rise of 3.3 per cent.

The gap between irrigation potential utilised (IPU) and irrigation potential created (IPC) has also reduced by 2.31 million hectares in the minor irrigation sector.

While 78.9 million hectares of irrigation potential is created through groundwater schemes and 10.6 million hectares through surface water schemes, the irrigation potential utilised is 63.4 million hectares and 7.9 million hectares for groundwater and surface water schemes respectively.

“This shows that 80.3 per cent of the potential created in groundwater has been utilised, while percentage of utilisation in respect of surface water is 74.8 per cent,” the Census noted.

The fifth Census was conducted in 33 states and Union Territories except Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Lakshadweep. The study covered 646,784 villages.

It involved large-scale collection of data of about 21.7 million MI structures in the villages and was completed by primary workers under the overall supervision of state nodal departments. The first three such studies were carried out with reference years as 1986-87, 1993-94 and 2000-01.

Meanwhile, major revisions in the CGWA guidelines for groundwater extraction include pan India coverage, decentralisation of the No Objection Certificate (NOC) issuing authorities, based on the quantum of groundwater extraction as per revenue heads of the district and dispensing with the provisions relating to submission of artificial recharge proposals and construction of artificial recharge structures by project proponents and introduction of a water conservation fee in lieu of recharge mechanism.

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