The latest iteration of the Minor Irrigation Census (MIC) has divulged a compelling insight into India’s irrigation landscape. It reveals that electricity has emerged as the predominant energy source for water extraction, overshadowing alternatives such as diesel, windmills, and solar pumps.
This electrification phenomenon exhibited a substantial growth trajectory, surging from a meager 56% of power sources in 2011 to a commanding 70% in 2017. However, the most recent report, unveiled just last week, discloses that electricity now reigns supreme, powering a staggering 76% of these irrigation sources, albeit at a more sluggish pace.
It’s imperative to note that the MIC reports encapsulate past data, offering a snapshot of irrigation trends from 2017-18. This temporal lag arises from the intricate process of gathering granular data down to the block level, which necessitates several years for compilation and public release.
The transition towards electricity-driven groundwater extraction is intrinsically linked to the growing prevalence of tubewells and borewells capable of reaching greater depths. While ‘dugwells’ and ponds, capable of sourcing water from a maximum depth of 15 meters, continue to be the primary groundwater source, their numbers have waned from 87 lakh to 82 lakh between the fifth and sixth editions. Conversely, ‘shallow’ tubewells, with a reach of up to 35 meters, also experienced a decline from 59 lakh to 55 lakh.
In contrast, ‘medium-sized’ wells, capable of drawing water from depths of up to 70 meters, burgeoned from 31 lakh to 43 lakh. Furthermore, ‘deep’ wells, with depths beyond 70 meters, saw a substantial increase, ascending from 26 lakh to 37 lakh.
The reasons behind the proliferation of these potent and deep-reaching tubewells are not explicitly addressed in the report. However, an anonymous officer familiar with the Census speculates that state governments might have offered incentives or access to loans for farmers to procure such tubewells. Simultaneously, the slower growth rate in electrification could signify a heightened focus on energy-efficient water extraction.
In the broader context, the report unveils a staggering total of 23.14 million Minor Irrigation (MI) schemes dispersed across 695 districts and 6,47,394 villages in India. Among these schemes, 94.8% were dedicated to groundwater (GW) extraction, amounting to 21.93 million, while surface-water (SW) extraction constituted 5.2%, totaling 1.21 million.
Noteworthy is Uttar Pradesh’s commanding lead in MI schemes, accounting for 17.2% of the national total, closely followed by Maharashtra at 15.4%, Madhya Pradesh at 9.9%, and Tamil Nadu at 9.1%. In the realm of GW schemes, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana emerge as the frontrunners, while Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Odisha, and Jharkhand hold the lion’s share in SW schemes.
Between the fifth and sixth editions of the Census, the number of MI schemes surged by approximately 1.42 million. Intriguingly, most of these schemes (96.6%) were privately owned, with small and marginal farmers, possessing less than two hectares of land, being the primary proprietors.
This glimpse into India’s irrigation landscape portrays a complex interplay of factors, with electricity asserting its dominance, deep-reaching tubewells gaining traction, and a dynamic distribution of MI schemes across the nation’s diverse regions.