In one of the strongest push in recent years on increasing irrigation coverage, the government had, in the 2016 budget, made major financial outlays for creating new irrigation infrastructure in the country. It had announced that of the roughly 150 then-ongoing irrigation projects under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP), 99 would be expedited and completed by the end of 2019. Together, these projects, put on the fast-track, were to add about 75 lakh hectares of cultivable land under irrigation network.
Three years down the line, the government effort seems to have yielded only mixed results till now. Government’s own figures, available on the AIBP website, show that only six of these projects have been fully completed till now, while another 45 are more than 90 per cent complete. A senior official from the Ministry of Water Resources said latest information from the states, which was yet to be updated on the AIBP website, showed that 31 of these projects had been fully completed.
“Some of these are showing 99 per cent or 98 per cent completion rate on the website. These remaining works in some of the projects are not related to water networks but other small things. The information we have from the states as of today shows 31 of these projects are now ready, and have achieved 100 per cent irrigation potential that these were supposed to create,” the official said.
However, many of these projects had completed over 90 per cent of the works last year itself but have still not been able to carry out the remaining works. “Some of these had reached their full irrigation potential, and started distributing water. At some places, the irrigation flow reduces the window period for completing the remaining construction works. Work can be done only when the water is not flowing. This can be one of the reasons why some projects are stuck at 95 or 98 per cent completion for several months,” the official said.
With less than a year left in the targeted time period, a lot of work remains to be done. At least 15 projects are not even 60 per cent complete, and a few of them might even be abandoned. The Punpun project in Bihar could not even take off due to problems in land acquisition and is likely to be dropped from the programme. The same fate is said to await Karapuzha project in Kerala, again because of problems in acquiring land. Some other projects are also facing land acquisition issues.
The renewed push on irrigation, which had come in the 2016 budget, was seen as key to reviving the farm sector. Of the nearly 142 million hectares of land under cultivation in the country, only about 64 million hectares, less than half, had assured access to irrigation facilities till 2016. The rest depended on rainwater. Nearly 60 per cent of irrigated land uses pumped ground water, banking on free or highly-subsidised power provided to farmers in most states, thereby putting further pressure on a fast-depleting critical resource.
Many of the projects that were fast-tracked for completion in 2016 had remained under-construction for several years, some even for a couple of decades, due to problems in funding and land acquisition. The delays had led to major cost-overruns and in many cases the budgetary allocations were barely enough to cover for these escalation in costs.
A recently concluded performance audit of the AIBP programme, submitted to Parliament last month, makes a stinging criticism of the implementation. The AIBP programme was kicked off in 1996 to speed up ongoing major and medium irrigation projects that were getting delayed due to fund crunch. The AIBP programme was subsumed in the wider Prime Minister Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) launched in 2015.
The CAG audited the performance of AIBP programme in the 2008-2017 period and found “violation of programme guidelines”, “irregular release of funds”, “deficiencies in preparation and processing of detailed project reports”, “incorrect calculation of benefit cost ratio” and several other problems in the implementation.
It had also pointed to “financial irregularities such as diversion of funds amounting to Rs 1,578.55 crore, parking of funds amounting to Rs 1,112.56 crore and fictitious and fraudulent expenditure amounting to Rs 7.58 crore”.
“Implementation of projects under AIBP was tardy, with delays in completion of projects ranging from one to 18 years,” the CAG report noted.