Irrigation Development in India During the Five Year Plans

The partition of India in 1947 brought about a drastic reduction in the irrigated area in the post-independent India. A substantial portion of the irrigated area of undivided India went to Pakistan. In 1950-51, the net irrigated area was 20.85 million ha and the gross irrigated area 22:60 million ha. The Government of India gave priority to develop new irrigation projects, realising the urgent need for developing the available water resources of the country to meet the deficits in food production.

The increase in irrigation potential during the five year plans, which commenced in 1951 and The Annual Plans was phenomenal and unprecedented. The gross irrigation potential rose from 22.6 ha in 1951 and was estimated to reach 196.61 million ha in 1997-2012.

National Water Policy

India adopted a National Water Policy in 1987 for the planning and development of water resources to be governed by national perspectives. It emphasizes the need for river basin planning. Amongst the priorities in the allocation of water for various needs, drinking water is given the highest priority, followed by irrigation, hydro-power, navigation, and industrial and other uses. As water resources development is a State responsibility, all the states are required to develop their state water policies within the framework of the National Water Policy. Since the adoption of the policy in 1987, a number of new issues and Challenges emerged in the development and management of water resources. Therefore, in 2002 the National Water Policy (1987) was reviewed and updated. The revised National Water Policy (2002) has the following priorities in water allocation: (1) Drinking water, (2) Irrigation, (3) Hydropower, (4) Ecology, (5) Industries, (6) Navigation and other uses. However, it has been stipulated that the priorities could be modified or added if required by the area/region specific considerations (Ministry of Water Resources, 2002). The revised policy has stressed that in the planning, implementation and operation of a water resource project, the preservation of the quality of environment and ecological balance should be primary considerations. An integrated and multi-disciplinary approach to the planning, formulation, clearance and implementation of projects, including catchment area treatment, command area development and the rehabilitation of the people adversely affected by the project are envisaged. The drainage system should form the integral part of an irrigation project right from the planning stage. The involvement and participation of beneficiaries and other stakeholders should be encouraged from the project planning stage. Integrated coordinated development of surface and groundwater resources and their conjunctive use should be envisaged right from the project planning stage. There should be periodical assessment of the groundwater potential and its quality. Exploitation of groundwater should be regulated to prevent its use to exceed the recharging capabilities of aquifers and ensure social equity. There should be a close integration of water use and land use policies. Municipal and industrial effluents should be treated to acceptable levels and standards before discharging them into natural streams. Minimum flow should be ensured in the perennial streams for maintaining ecology and social considerations. Drought-prone areas should be made less vulnerable to drought-affected problems through soil moisture conservation measures and water harvesting procedures. The water sharing and distribution amongst states should be guided by a national perspective with due regard to water resources availability and needs within the river basin/sub-basin. Water resources development will have to be planned for a hydrological unit, multi-sectorally. Watershed management through extensive soil and water" conservation in the catchment area, preservation of forests and increasing the area under the forests are to be given priority. Construction of check dams should be prompted wherever feasible.

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