Govt Mismanagement Is Coming in the Way of Irrigation Water for Gujarat's Farmers

Official reports are obfuscating the fact that irrigation water isn't, in fact, reaching the farmers it's supposed to.

Why is Gujarat, an otherwise ‘developed’ state, with an agricultural growth rate ostensibly higher than the other states of India, as repeatedly claimed by the government of Gujarat, reeling under pressure from angry farmers?

If the government of Gujarat’s claims of development are indeed true, then why is the average monthly income of a farmer a mere Rs 3,573? Why is the state of Gujarat at a distant ninth position amongst all the states in the country in terms of farmers’ incomes? 

Both the government of Gujarat and the Central government have claimed that the high rate of agricultural growth and farmer satisfaction in the state is a testament to the success of the ‘Gujarat model.’ However, farmer unrest is prevalent in almost all the regions of Gujarat, a claim that was vindicated after the ruling BJP lost much ground in rural areas in the assembly elections of 2017.

Where the water is going

One of the major bones of contention, in official reports and on the ground, is the provision of irrigation water to the farmers of Gujarat, especially in the arid central, north and west of Gujarat. The Department of Agriculture and Cooperation claims that “Total gross irrigated area is 56.14 lakhs hectares which accounts for 45.97% of total crop area.” The same figure is also reported in the Centre’s ‘The State of Indian Agriculture‘ report for 2015-16.

However, the Narmada, Water Resources, Water Supply and Kalpasar Department (NWRWS) website shows that the irrigated area by all means of irrigation in 2006-07 was 12,16,130 hectares, which declined in 2013-14 to 10,63,190 hectares.

A Comptroller and Auditor General report from 2016 revealed a different story altogether. Appendix II gives a table detailing the project-wise cumulative command area created and actually achieved between 2011 and 2016, and it shows the Gujarat government’s mismanagement and lack of administrative acumen.

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The 53 irrigation schemes listed had achieved an average of only 24% irrigation. The CAG report statedThere was no long term action plan for water conservation activities. Instead, the Department took up water conservation works, mainly, canal lining and desilting of dam reservoirs in a piecemeal manner. The average CCA achieved was only 24% as against the CCA created for the irrigation under 53 Irrigation Projects during 2011-12 to 2015-16. This indicated sub-optimal performance in the water conservation activities.”

By any standards, the area under irrigation is still less than half the total cultivated area, and the government’s lack of effort on this front is unmistakably evident. So much for ‘good governance’ and ‘minimum government’.

With the Narmada and Sardar Sarovar dam, the irrigation potential that had to be created, of 18,45,655 hectares, is still languishing at 6,40,000 hectares in 2017-18. This, after almost 17 years of the Narmada water flowing in the main canal. The canal network remains unfinished and the most important component of the canal network, the sub-minor canals, are at a mere 53.5% as per the NCA Annual Report of 2016-17.

Most importantly, the irrigation water that was to have been provided by the Narmada canal has not, in fact, been provided. Much obfuscation is undertaken in the official reporting, apparently to hide more than to reveal. However, it does reveal a few things.

2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 17-18 18-19

Water allocation (MCM)


8516.3109 (76.71%) 10283.676 (92.63%) 12080.748 (108.82%) 5920
6.9 8.33 MAF 9.79 MAF 4.80 MAF 6.71 MAF
Amount to be used for irrigation as per the GoG formula 7494 MCM 9049 10630 5209 7282
Total area irrigated (ha.) 202750 (10.98%) 450475 (24.40%) 6,28,011(34.02%) 6,40,000
Area left unirrigated (ha.) 1642905 (89.02%) 1395180
Industrial usage 41.80 MCM

Source: Narmada Control Authority Annual Reports; percentages have been derived

Against the NWDP award of 11,101.00 million cubic metre (MCM) to Gujarat, the water received has been, depending upon the rainfall in that year, around 76% to 108%. About 88% of the allocated amount of water was earmarked for irrigation by the Gujarat government.

The Gujarat government had committed itself to utilising the water in the following manner.

Purpose MAF %
Irrigation 7.94 88.20%
1.8 million ha. spread over 15 districts, 73 talukas and 3,112 villages to be irrigated from this
Drinking water 0.86 9.50%
drinking water needs of 9,633 villages and 131 urban centers
Industrial use 0.2 2.20%
Total 9

An example of obfuscation, here, is that the report fails to mention the amount of water that Gujarat utilised for irrigation, drinking water purposes and industrial use, except in 2016-17 (where the industrial usage is mentioned). However, the usage figures for irrigation and drinking water have to be guessed, if one is to go by the NCA reports.

Till 2017-18, the state government had been able to provide irrigation to only 6,40,000 hectares of the total command area, which is a mere 34.67%. In other words, nearly 12,05,655 hectares or 65.33% of the total command area has been allowed to remain unirrigated, either through acts of omission or commission, on the part of the government of Gujarat or the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL).

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Had the water been utilised in the right proportion, as indicated in the above table, then the irrigation potential of 18,45,655 hectares would have materialised by now. The canal network has not been completed, and even after 17 years of the water having been released into the main canal, the minor and sub-minor canal network remains ‘work in progress’.

One example of a deliberately misleading reporting and obfuscation is provided below:

Water Resources Development: The ultimate irrigation potential through the surface water is assessed at 48.11 lakh hectares which includes 17.92 lakh hectares through Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) Project. Similarly, with respect to groundwater resources, it is estimated that about 20.04 lakh hectares can be irrigated. Thus the total ultimate irrigation potential through surface & groundwater is estimated to be 68.15 lakh hectares. The total irrigation potential of surface water created up to June-2017 works out to 90.62% of ultimate irrigation potential whereas maximum utilisation works out to 68.25% of the irrigation potential created. (Socio-Economic Review, Gujarat State, 2017-18)

It is reporting on “irrigation potential created” and how much area “can be irrigated” as opposed to how much is actually realised on the ground, on which it is suspiciously silent.

Another example of deliberately misleading reporting is the NCA Annual Report of 2016-17 which says:

Overall 100% Main Canal, 99.90% Branch Canal and Sub-Branch Canal other than KBC, 80% of Kachchh Branch Canal, 40% Sub Branch Canal of KBC, 90% of Distributaries, 78% Minors, 100% Sub-Minors under conventional system and 41% Sub-Minor under UGPL are completed for creating irrigation potential of 79% up to Minor level and 53.50% upto Sub-Minor level up to March, 2017. (emphasis added)

But a crucial admission by the authority is inadvertently let out. They admit to having created an irrigation potential of up to 53.5% (up to the sub-minor level, which is the most important indicator for irrigation). Of the total irrigation potential, 53.5% amounts to 9,87,425 hectares. However, only 6,40,000 hectares or 34.67% of the total command area is actually being provided with irrigation water. What about the rest of the 3,47,425 hectares?

But even more importantly, where is that water going? Why is that not reported in the various reports by the NCA, SSNNL and government of Gujarat?

It is amply clear that farmers and agriculture are not suffering on account of deficit rainfall. Rather, their misfortunes are due to the chest-thumping bravado of the Gujarat government, which is hiding its utter neglect and mismanagement.