By Himanshu Thakkar*
The Union Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) has been claiming that the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Program (AIBP) is a success story of the Modi government and some media stories are happy to uncritically report those claims. If we take a close, objective look at the MoWR website, we gather that the claims of success is just that: claim of the ministry. There is no evidence available on the ministry’s website or in the media report that support such claims to show that additional irrigation has actually been achieved.
In fact, MoWR never had evidence to show that their claim of either Irrigation Potential Created (IPC) or Irrigation Potential Utilised (IPU) translates into actual irrigation on ground. Those claims are based on building of certain structures, not achievement of actual irrigation. The data for actual irrigation comes only from Ministry of Agriculture, and that data has consistently shown that the maximum Net area irrigated by Major and Medium Irrigation Projects in India reached a peak of 17.79 m ha over two decades back in 1991-92, and has never reached that figure again in next 23 years, see the graph below based on Ministry of Agriculture data of actual net irrigated area from Major and Medium irrigation projects, AIBP is essentially about these projects. And it cannot be anyone’s case that building structures means success in irrigation. Actual irrigation on ground has to be the measure of success of any effort in irrigation sector.
The area irrigated by groundwater in 2014-15 had already touched 43 m ha, see graph below. The area irrigated by groundwater is only likely to have gone up since then as can be seen from the secular trend over the last several decades.
This was out of about 68.3 m ha of net irrigated area in 2014-15, see graph below.
Unfortunately, there is a gap of about 3 years before we get the latest irrigation figures, so we wont be able to use these figures to assess the claim of Modi govt’s success of AIBP over the last two years. However, there is sufficient other information to show how sound or unsound this claim is.
Now we are told by MoWR and the “Indian Express” report that what could not be achieved in 23 years, has been achieved in last two years. Both are clearly claiming unprecedented success! The funny thing is neither the MoWR nor the IE report provides either any independent verification or credible assessment to support the unprecedented claims. In fact, neither of them are saying that these claims are reflected in ground realities. In fact, if we go by independent assessments like the earlier CAG reports of audit of the AIBP, the audits have consistently shown that the AIBP claims are more often than not hollow and not supported by ground realities.
The “Indian Express” report in fact is so uncritical that it not only does not ask any of these questions, it does not even read the available documents on AIBP website carefully. So for example, it claims that irrigation potential created by Feb 2018 from Priority I (P I) projects is 3.17 lakh ha, not bothering to mention that this is not all achievement of Mission Water that started in March 2016. According to MoWR website, only 0.97 lakh ha or less than a third of this figure is achieved in last two years. Similarly, the achievements claimed by MoWR in last two years for P II and PII are much lower than what the “The Indian Express” article suggests.
Let us look at some more details. The “Indian Express” article claims that all 18 P I projects have achieved Physical progress of 90% or more. But MoWR says that in at least three cases of P I projects, the Irrigation Potential Created (IPC) by Feb 2018 is less than 90%, including: Warna (Mah), Rukura – Tribal (Odisha) and Gollavagu project (Telangana). Out of the remaining 15 P I projects, seven had already achieved over 90% Irrigation Potential Created in Feb 2016, when the current mission started. Similarly, the “Indian Express” article claims that 14 of P II projects achieved over 90% physical progress, but MoWR website claims that only 11 of P II projects achieved over 90% progress in terms of IPC and four of them were already in that situation in Feb 2016 when the Modi govt mission started.
So just based on uncritical acceptance of the claims of the MoWR and even presenting them in misleading way, and of course without any evidence from ground, the “Indian Express” article claims this is Modi’s success story, with amazing phrases thrown in, sample this; “progress has been quite impressive”, “one of the fastest expansions in the country’s irrigated land area”, “real game changer”, “innovative financing”, to list a few. Funnily, the “Indian Express” article could not get any credible voices to support the unprecedented claims it makes, it could only get two quotes from one anonymous former official! Not even a single non anonymous quote for a success story! Not that it would have necessarily helped!
Must add that one does not expect this from “Indian Express”. We are writing and publishing this only to set the record right and try to remove any misconceptions that such unverified claims can create.
*South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org