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Turning over Irrigation Management : Prospects and Constraints

Mamata Swain

In recent years proper utilisation of natural resources like land and water has become a matter of grave concern for policy makers and planners (Vaidyanathan, 1994). To meet the swelling demand for food due to growing population and in the face of scarcity of cultivable land, huge public investments are made on irrigation sector which is land augmenting in nature. It needs no emphasis that irrigation is a critical and crucial input required for agricultural production inasmuch as availability of irrigation water enables the use of other yield enhancing inputs like High Yielding Varieties of seeds, chemical fertiliser, organic manure and above all adoption of improved agronomic practices. Irrigation increases crop production by increasing crop yield, cropping intensity and making possible cultivation of high value and remunerative crops.

However, mere provision of irrigation facility to land does not ensure enhanced agricultural production. The productivity impact of irrigation is critically dependent on the way water is applied and utilised. The quality of irrigation service in terms of adequacy, timeliness, equity, dependability, predictability and convenience in its supply remarkably determines the yield from irrigation commands. For obtaining optimum yield water should be provided in time and in adequate quantity according to the crop water requirement of plants at its various growth stages, as water stress affects crop yield adversely. Irrespective of the location and size of the farm, water should be allocated equitably among the headenders and tailenders and also large farmers and small farmers. For planning the cropping pattern, farmers need to know in advance the timing and quantity of water supply. Water should be provided in a dependable, predictable and convenient manner without any uncertainty in its quantum of delivery and timing. Quality in irrigation service should be maintained over time and should be stable and sustainable in the long run.

In India in the post independence period, a major thrust has been given on creation of irrigation infrastructure by constructing big dams, reservoirs and canal networks. Though use of irrigation along with HYV seed and chemical fertiliser has considerably increased agricultural productivity and helped India in attaining self sufficiency in food production, overall performance of irrigation sector is considered sub optimal, inefficient and inequitable falling far short of expectations. Irrigation canals have remained exclusively managed by hierarchical government departments in a top down approach.

 
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