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Need for a Paradigm Shift

Given this apparent emergence of limits to further develop of water resources in large parts of the country, the 12th Plan faced a challenge of how to move forward. It was clear that business-as-usual would not do. New ideas needed to be desperately put into place for which the best scholars and practitioners had to come together. Thus, a new architecture of plan formulation was designed. The Working Groups for the 12lh Plan in the water sector were, for the first time in the history of the Planning Commission, all chaired by renowned experts from outside government. Over the course of several months in 2011-12, a new path was charted out, giving rise to a ten-fold paradigm shift in water resource management in India. This paper outlines the main features of this change.

Ten Elements of the Paradigm Shift

Large Irrigation Reform

Given the emerging limits to further development in the Major and Medium Irrigation (MMI) sector, the 12.h Plan proposes a move away from a narrowly engineering-construction-centric approach to a more multi-disciplinary, participatory management perspective, with central emphasis on command area development and a sustained effort at improving water use efficiency, which continues to languish at a very low level. Given that nearly 80 per cent of our water resources are consumed by irrigation, an increase in water use efficiency of irrigation projects by the 12th Plan goal of 20 per cent will have a major impact on the overall availability of water not only for agriculture but also for other sectors of the economy.

The key bottleneck so far has been that capacities of irrigation departments in many states to deliver quality services have failed to keep up with the growing MMI investments. While States compete for capital investments in new MMI projects, they do little to manage them efficiently.

This is closely linked to the fact that in many states the Irrigation Service Fee (ISF) to be collected from farmers has been abolished or is as low as 2.-8 per cent of dues. In this way, the accountability loop between farmers and irrigation departments is broken. Wherever ISF gets regularly collected, irrigation staff shows greater accountability and responsiveness to farmers. There is greater contact between the two, there is greater oversight of water distribution and farmers expect at least a minimal level of service if an ISF is demanded of them.

A substantial National Irrigation Management Fund (NIMF) is, therefore, being created to incentivise states to make the required paradigm shift. The NIMF will be a non-lapsable fund that reimburses to state irrigation departments, a matching contribution of their ISF collection from farmers on a 1:1 ratio. In order to generate competition among MMI staff across commands, States would allocate the central grant to MMI systems in proportion to their respective ISF collection. To encourage Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM), the NIMF will provide a bonus on that portion of each State's ISF collection which has been collected through Water User Associations (WUAs). And this will be on the condition that WUAs and their federations are allowed to retain definite proportions /of the ISF, which would not only enable them to undertake repair and maintenance of distribution systems, but also increase their stakes in water management.

Similarly, to encourage volumetric water deliveries, NIMF will provide an additional bonus on that portion of a State's ISF collection which accrues through volumetric water supply to WUAs at the outlet level. The clear understanding is that empowering WUAs is the key to making the process of pricing of water and ISF collection more transparent and participatory. These proposals are based on experience on the ground over the last few years in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Our huge investments in irrigation have yielded much less than what they should have, mainly because Command Area Development (CAD) has been consistently neglected and divorced from building of irrigation capacities. The 12th Plan stipulates that all irrigation project proposals (major, medium or small) will, henceforth include CAD works from the very beginning as an integral part of the project.

 
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