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Pampered Views and Parrot Talks: In the Cause of Well Irrigation in India

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Kumar, M. Dinesh; Sivamohan, M. V. K.
Conference: Sustaining Commons: Sustaining Our Future, the Thirteenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons
Location: Hyderabad, India
Conf. Date: January 10-14
Date: 2011
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/7270
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): irrigation
agricultural development
poverty alleviation
governance and politics
Abstract: "The paper reveals some of the fallacies in Indian irrigation. They are as follows. Groundwater is a democratic resource; access to well irrigation is more equitable than canals; well irrigation is more productive than canal irrigation and therefore is superior to canal irrigation. Surface irrigation is becoming increasingly irrelevant in India’s irrigation landscape in spite of growing investments, and therefore future investments in the sector should be diverted for well irrigation. The growth in well irrigation in semi arid regions of India can be sustained by recharging the aquifers using local runoff. Well irrigation can boost agricultural growth and eradicate poverty in water-abundant eastern India. The paper makes the following arguments. The inherent advantages of surface irrigation system over well irrigation such as higher system dependability and the ability to effectively address spatial mismatch in resource availability and demand, means the second is not a substitute for the first. The use of outdated irrigation management concepts which treat 'drainage' as waste leads to underassessment of efficiency of surface systems. Sustaining well irrigation in semi arid and arid regions would need 'imported surface water' rather than local runoff for recharging. The use of simple statistics of “area irrigated’ to pass judgements about performance of surface irrigation systems is sheer misuse of statistics, as there are complex socio-economic and hydrological processes adversely affecting their performance, which are beyond the institutional capacity of irrigation agencies to control. Well irrigation alone cannot boost agricultural growth and reduce poverty in eastern India as the region has very low per capita arable land, and offers low marginal returns from irrigation owing to high humidity and rainfall. Finally, to conclude improving the performance of irrigation systems, be it gravity or well, and sustaining the country’s irrigation growth is a governance challenge."

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