How 2017-18 Census Decodes Irrigation with 23.14 Million Schemes?

Policy Puzzles: Groundwater schemes are owned by private entities, accounting for a significant 98.3% of ownership. Though less skewed, surface water schemes still show a majority in private ownership, with 64.2% falling under this category.

The Processor
28 Aug 2023

In a significant revelation, the latest census data released by the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Department of Water Resources, River Development, and Ganga Rejuvenation has shed light on India's minor irrigation (MI) schemes. Covering 2017-18, this comprehensive census report provides a detailed overview of the nation's irrigation landscape, offering essential insights into the present condition and future trajectory of water resource management in the country.

Groundwater Dominates Minor Irrigation Landscape

The census data presents an astonishing statistic: 94.8% of India's minor irrigation schemes, out of 23.14 million, heavily depend on groundwater. In contrast, a mere 5.2% of schemes utilize surface water sources. This stark contrast underscores the significant role groundwater plays in sustaining India's vast agricultural sector, making it an indispensable resource for crop cultivation.

The minor irrigation sector in India has witnessed remarkable growth since the previous census. The data reveals an addition of around 1.42 million MI schemes, underlining the sector's expanding footprint. Among the states, Uttar Pradesh emerges as the frontrunner, boasting the highest number of MI schemes. Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu closely follow it. These states' prevalence in the MI landscape solidifies their crucial position in India's agriculture sector.

Groundwater vs. Surface Water: State-wise Trends

Diving deeper into the data, it becomes evident that different states display distinct preferences for irrigation sources. Groundwater-based schemes, encompassing various types such as dug wells, shallow tube wells, medium tube wells, and deep tube wells, are most prominent in states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana. On the other hand, surface water schemes, including surface flow and lift schemes, find prominence in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Odisha, and Jharkhand.

Among the myriad types of MI schemes, dug wells emerge as the most prevalent. Shallow tube wells, medium tube wells, and deep tube wells follow this. Maharashtra emerges as a leader in several categories, including dug wells, surface flow, and surface lift schemes, showcasing its prowess in agriculture.

Operational Efficiency and Private Ownership

The census report not only provides a snapshot of the number of schemes but also delves into their operational efficiency. A striking 97.0% of all MI schemes are operational, emphasizing their indispensable role in supporting the agricultural activities that drive India's economy. Notably, shallow and medium tube wells are the predominant 'in use' schemes, vital in maintaining productivity.

Private ownership takes center stage in the MI landscape, with 96.6% of schemes falling under this category. Interestingly, groundwater schemes are predominantly owned by private entities, accounting for a significant 98.3% of ownership. Surface water schemes, though less skewed, still show a majority in private ownership, with 64.2% falling under this category.

Pioneering Gender-Inclusive Agriculture

Breaking new ground, the census introduces data on gender-based ownership for the first time. The revelation that 18.1% of individually owned schemes are under female ownership marks a positive step towards gender-inclusive agriculture. This statistic reflects the gradual but important shift in recognizing women's role in India's agricultural landscape.

Financing is a critical aspect of the MI sector, and the census data provides intriguing insights into this area as well. Approximately 60.2% of schemes rely on a single source of finance. Among these, a substantial 79.5% are funded through individual farmers' savings, highlighting the financial commitment of those directly engaged in agriculture. Conversely, 39.8% of schemes draw funding from multiple sources, reflecting a diverse financial landscape within the sector.

Parameters Covered in the Census

The data was collected under the centrally sponsored "Irrigation Census" scheme. It meticulously gathered data on various parameters, including irrigation sources, the potential created by these schemes, ownership structures, landholding sizes of the owners, water extraction devices used, and energy sources. This comprehensive dataset presents a goldmine of information for planners, policymakers, researchers, agricultural and groundwater scientists, administrators, and all stakeholders invested in developing India's irrigation and agricultural sectors.

The 2017-18 census of India's minor irrigation landscape provides an intricate view of the nation's water resource management. With groundwater-dependent schemes taking the lead, growing operational efficiency, private ownership, and a promising move toward gender-inclusive agriculture, the findings have far-reaching implications. The exhaustive dataset is set to become a guiding light for policymakers, researchers, and all those striving for the holistic development of India's agriculture and irrigation sectors.