52% of cultivated land has access to irrigation for first time: Niti Aayog.

For the first time, more than half of India’s cultivated land now has access to assured irrigation led by an expansion in micro projects, which have higher water-use efficiency, official data for 2022-23 show.

In 2022-23, of the 141 million hectares of gross sown area in the country, nearly 73 million hectares, or 52%, had irrigation access, up from 41% in 2016, according to updated data from Niti Aayog, the state-run think-tank.

The increase in irrigation cover, especially in dryland agricultural zones of states, such as Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, will help mitigate the increasing impacts of drier summers and patchy monsoons that are partly linked to the climate crisis, analysts say.

Agriculture accounts for nearly 80% of the country’s annual available water use, or 700 billion cubic metres. The June-September monsoon, vital for the world’s fifth largest economy, still waters much of the kharif or summer-sown crops.

When the monsoon is poor, farm incomes take a hit. Its effects ripple into the broader economy because rural demand is key to the country’s economic growth. For instance, rural customers account for nearly half of all two-wheelers sales in a year.

Global warming has made the rain-bearing system more erratic, with too much rain in a short period or too little, according to Roxy Mathew Koll, a scientist with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.

A micro-irrigation fund (MIF) with corpus of 5000 crore was created with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) during 2018-19 to help states mobilise resources. Under the fund, central assistance worth 12,696 crore has been released to states, of which 11,845 crore was utilized till the last financial year.

The increase in irrigation cover since 2017-18 was driven by six programmes and projects, according to data seen by HT. These are the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) and the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP), under which 11,505 crore was released between 2017-18 and 2021-23; Har Khet Ko Paani-Surface Minor Irrigation ( 4,000 crore); PMKSY-groundwater projects ( 787 crore); special package for Maharashtra ( 1,988 crore); Rajasthan and Srihind feeder ( 300 crore) and Shahpur-Kandi project ( 298 crore). In Madhya Pradesh, 21 prioritised irrigation projects have been identified under PMKSY-AIBP. Out these, 17 projects have been completed, increasing the state’s irrigation cover by 16%.

Of the total irrigation-infrastructure expansion, micro irrigation facilities through sprinklers and drip systems were installed in 8 million hectares. Out of the total irrigated area in the country, 40% is currently watered through canal networks, while 60% through groundwater, which in several states has plunged to severely depleted levels, the data show.

“There’s much more to do. The total potential for micro-irrigation in the country is estimated to be 60 million hectares. Conventional surface irrigation provides only 60% efficiency but drip irrigation has nearly 90% efficiency,” said SK Jayashankar, an expert with the Watershed India Trust.

The country can create irrigation potential in about 60% of its arable land and 40% of the cultivable area will remain dependent on rains because it is not possible to create irrigation networks in certain regions due to hydrological and geographical reasons, according to a document of the Jal Shakti ministry.

Source- Hindustan Times.

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