Water to every farm? – Emulate Madhya Pradesh’s irrigation reform

IWMI Tata’s Water Policy Research Highlight (01) for 2016 by Tushaar Shah, Gourav Mishra, Pankaj Kela and Pennan Chinnasamy deals with how Madhya Pradesh focused on two low hanging fruits to multiply the state’s irrigated area quickly, at small incremental cost, delivering double-digit agricultural growth. What are those reform strategies that the rest of India can emulate for its irrigation reform? Especially, the Prime Minister’s Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) that has promised the country har khet ko pani (water to every farm) through a public investment of 50,000 crores. The report notes that “first, it should quickly utilize 20-40 million ha of unutilized irrigation potential created in major, medium and minor irrigation projects. Second, it should provide better quality power ration to farmers using tubewells during peak irrigation season”. Else, such large scale public irrigation will turn into yet another bottomless pit considering the ‘deficiencies in planning, implementation and management’ and the ‘governance deficit’.

In contrast to Madhya Pradesh, in states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, massive irrigation investments were made that created rent seeking opportunities. Further, the anarchy on rural electricity network was left totally untouched. In Madhya Pradesh, agricultural growth through irrigation development was pursued as a political strategy for capturing agrarian vote-banks rather than rent-seeking. Power supply for rabi irrigation was quickly improved and the utilization of created canal irrigation potential from major, medium and minor schemes was rapidly expanded.

The study reveals that there is increase in irrigated winter cropping all over the state but there is much more in groundwater-irrigated western districts (Ujjain, Rajgarh, Dewas, Dhar, Burhanpur, Shehore, Barwani) and less so in eastern and north-eastern parts (Rewa, Satna, Sidhi, Shahdol, Sagar, Damoh, Sidhi and other districts), which have much of the state’s canal command areas.

Earlier there was anarchy in rural power network during winter when rampant hooking on low tension lines by frustrated farmers led to low voltage, frequent black outs and transformer burnouts. Madhya Pradesh imposed a modicum of order on this anarchy by issuing temporary winter season power connections. Irrigation demand for power during winter was so high that farmers were willing to pay rationally per unit for reliable power. The government contracted advance power purchase for winter months, created a sense of plenty, and began liberally issuing winter-season irrigation connections.

Madhya Pradesh’s miraculous expansion in canal irrigated area can be attributed to performance-linked demands (PLD) on the bureaucracy and performance-linked supports (PLS) so that the department could rise to the challenge. The PLDPLS strategy involved six components: (a) Restoring canal management protocols (b) Last mile investments (c) Reducing deferred maintenance (d) Constant monitoring (e) Animating the irrigation bureaucracy and (f) Vitalizing farmer organizations.

Impacts of bureaucratic reforms are hard to assess in a short timeframe. In Madhya Pradesh, irrigation department, there are some signs of these working because of significant political and administrative energy behind them. But are these sustainable? For sustaining gains from irrigation management reform, the report suggests the strategy of unfreeze, change and refreeze. The report concludes that “unless irrigation management reform is taken to its logical end by rationalization and vigorous recovery of irrigation service fees, the gains of irrigation management reform will peter out as soon as the leadership changes or takes the pressure off.

Report details:

Tushaar Shah, Gourav Mishra, Pankaj Kela, Pennan Chinnasamy. Har Khet Ko Pani? (Water to Every Farm?) Emulate Madhya Pradesh’s Irrigation Reform. IWMI Tata water Policy Research Program Highlight 01, 2016.

A shorter version can also be found in Economic and Political Weekly February 6, 2016.

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