The south-west monsoon is likely to be normal this year. But the bottom line is that the dependence of agricultural output on monsoon rainfall has increased in the recent years, despite large public sector outlays in irrigation
As the south-west monsoon makes up three-fourths of the total rainfall in
Now, it is an old adage that Indian agriculture is a gamble on monsoons. What has changed in recent years is that the stakes in this gamble have gone high and turned asymmetric, involving more losses than gains. Thus, the interest in the monsoon as well as its importance have increased considerably. Several factors explain this change. Since the beginning of the First Five-Year Plan in 1951-52,
Investments in medium and major irrigation and flood control continue to be some of the most important categories of public investments. During the five decades since 1951-56, irrigation and flood control have received nearly Rs 1,600 billion of public sector outlay. Besides, huge private investments have gone into groundwater irrigation.
As a result, area under irrigation has increased from 22.56 million hectare in 1951-52 to 85.6 million hectare now. Irrigation is now available for 44% of the area under cultivation compared to less than 18% at the beginning of Plan period. Despite this progress, 56% of the net cultivated area in
Expansion in irrigation has contributed significantly to growth in agricultural output and has also insulated agriculture production from the shock of monsoon aberrations to some extent. But the situation in recent years has turned out to be different. Water flows in a large number of canals has reduced, some of the canals are running dry and in many a case the frequency of getting water from canals has reduced. Official statistics show that despite large investments made in the development of major and medium irrigation, the area under canal irrigation has shown a decline after the late 1990s. It is both sad and surprising that large public sector outlays on major and medium irrigation are not showing corresponding increase in area under irrigation. For these reasons, vulnerability of agricultural output to rainfall fluctuations and its dependence on monsoon rainfall has increased in recent years.
Another reason for the rising importance of the south-west monsoon is that crop production, crop practices and crop seasons have shifted towards more water-intensive uses. This has resulted in a tremendous pressure on demand for water in agriculture. Upstream water use in agriculture is also rising, leaving less water for downstream uses.
Demand for water in non-agricultural sectors is rising rapidly. Total demand for water in the country exceeds normal supply. Thus, poor rainfalls aggravate the pressure due to gap in demand and supply of water.
Estimates of groundwater status show that in about one-third of cases, groundwater withdrawal exceeds recharge levels, which is lowering the water tables. In the most agriculturally progressive state of
Another important dimension of monsoon rains is that they are erratic 40% of the time for the country as a whole. Except in the north-eastern parts of
Agricultural production today is much more commercialised than in the past. Crop failure, which does not leave farmers with enough income to pay for input costs and various kind of loans, often results in distress for farm families. Despite so much value remaining vested in water and the rising burden on water resources, we do not harness enough of what nature gives us. The next few weeks will experience torrential rains in several parts of the country, much of which will be lost as run-off. Very little is done to conserve and harvest the water when it pours over the country.