Despite the achievements in the irrigation system, there are some critical issues which should be analyzed. First of all, the under utilization of existing irrigation system is a cause of concern. It is estimated that about 85 per cent of the created irrigation potential is actually been utilized and the rest is lying idle. According to official estimation, the actual utilization of created irrigation potential is about 87.2 million hectares only. The main factors responsible for this dismal picture of under utilization are poor maintenance and operation of irrigation projects, lack of complementary facilities like field distribution system, water control structures, leveling of land, roads, credit, and marketing and proper water drainage system. It is also observed that inadequate water conveyance system is also causing the problems of wastage of water, water logging, floods and salinity.
It is urgently required to implement the multi cropping system and alternative cropping pattern for deriving the maximum benefits from large scale investment in irrigation system. It is found that most of the irrigated area is under the single crop system. In Ninth Five Year, to lessen the gap between created irrigation potential and its actual utilization, Commands Area Development Programme, Institutional reforms and participation of farmers in management of irrigation projects etc. have been adopted. It is heartening to note that Water Resources Ministry has started farmers participatory research programme with the cooperation of agriculture universities and research sections to disseminate the knowledge of latest techniques to the farmers. In Eleventh Five Year Plan, the target of increasing the irrigation facilities by 25 lakh hectare annually is laid down so that the dependence of agriculture on monsoon can be reduced. For the optimum utilization of irrigation potential, a provision of Rs. 5000 crore is also made by Thirteen Finance Commission for the period of 2011-12 to 2014-15.
Another main concern about irrigation is that since 1970s, the dependence on ground water for irrigation has increased leaps and bounds. The excessive extraction of ground water for irrigation has endangered the bank of ground water. The subsidized rate of electricity, easy availability of loans for boring purposes, pump sets, lack of knowledge to farmers about scientific agriculture system and the absence of rain water conservation methods are the factors responsible for the depletion of ground water. About 60% of irrigation in the country is done with ground water.
It is estimated that a 10 percent increase in the efficiency of water use can irrigate additional 140 lakh hectare land. To achieve this objective, it is essential that necessary information about efficient water use must be provided to the farmers and complementary irrigation facilities must be ensured. The participation of farmers in the management and maintenance of irrigation system should be raised by conferring on them some type of co ownership in the irrigation system. The private sector should also be encouraged to participate in the development of irrigation sector. Lastly, a comprehensive watershed management plan should be formulated and effectively implemented for the successful operation of irrigation sector. To make efficient use of irrigation system and to minimize water wastage; it is desirable to promote the sprinkler method of irrigation. All these measures will go to a long way to make the country ''water rich'' and "agriculture rich''.
The history of development of irrigation in India can be traced back to prehistoric times. In an agrarian economy like India, irrigation has played a major role. Vedas and ancient Indian scriptures made references to wells, canals, tanks and dams which were beneficial to the community and for their efficient operation and maintenance the responsibility was of the State. Civilization flourished on the banks of rivers and the water was harnessed for sustenance of life. According to the ancient Indian writers, the digging of a tank or well was amongst the greatest of the meritorious acts of a man. Vishnu Purana enjoins merit to a person who effected repairs to wells, gardens and dams. The irrigation technologies during the Indus Valley Civilization were in the form of small and minor works, which were operated by households to irrigate small patches of land and did not require a collective effort. Nearly all the irrigation technologies prevalent then still exist in India with little technological change and are continued to be used by households in rural areas.
The spread of agricultural settlements to less fertile area led to emergence of large irrigation works in the form of reservoirs and small canals. While the construction of small schemes was well within the capability of village communities, large irrigation works emerged only with the growth of states and empires.
In south, perennial irrigation began with construction of the Grand Anicut by the Cholas as early as second century to provide water for irrigation from the Cauvery river. Wherever the topography and terrain permitted, it was an old practice in the region to impound the surface drainage water in tanks or reservoirs by throwing across an earthen dam with a weir, where necessary, to take off excess water, and a sluice at a suitable level to irrigate the land below. Some of the tanks got supplemental supply from stream and river channels. The entire land scape in the central and southern India is studded with numerous irrigation tanks which have been traced back to many centuries before the beginning of the Christian era. In northern India too there are a number of small canals in the upper valleys of rivers which are very old.