No Water, No Cry
The scheme and the scam
Rs 45000 cr Allocated for 283 canal projects under Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme since 1996-97
- 90% Projects delayed, leading to cost and time overruns
- 2-8 years Delay due to poor monitoring
- 28-916% Cost overrun due to delays
1250000 hectares Ultimate irrigation potential under the AIBP project
- 690000 Created till 2009-10
- Big offenders: Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Manipur
The stench is overpowering as one travels along the uneven road lying parallel to the Agra Canal, which begins its long journey from the Okhla barrage in Delhi. Poorly maintained, with vegetation and construction waste clogging the flow in parts, this is one of the 283 irrigation canal projects fundedunder the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP). “I have left farming as I don’t want to grow anything with this poisonous water,” says Mahavir Singh, 60, tending to his herd of buffaloes in a village near Faridabad. “What I can’t feed my family, I don’t want to grow.”
“I wanted the Centre to provide funds and the technical support and let states create the irrigation potential.”
Saifuddin Soz, Former Union water resources minister
This is but one example of what the AIBP has failed to deliver despite annual budgets running into several thousand crores. As millions of farmers wait for the weak and “leaky” irrigation canal systems, built or modernised at considerable cost, to deliver water at their farm gates, India’s dream of a second green revolution is bound to fail. In the last 14 years, despite Rs 45,399 crore being spent on 283 last-mile irrigation canal projects to link delayed mega projects to the farm gate, “the area irrigated by canals and tanks has actually undergone a decline since the 1990s”.
That is the stated view in the Planning Commission’s mid-term review of the 11th Plan. The plan body is not alone. Two public sector audit bodies—the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) last year and the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report in late February—have blamed both the central and state governments for implementation lapses.
Voicing deep distress at the way resources have been squandered with little benefit to the farmers, the PAC report says that since the AIBP began in 1992, there has been a sharp decline in the irrigation potential being created annually “as well as allocation of funds to the irrigation sector in the states”. Experts are calling it nothing short of a scam. “Year after year, irrigation targets are set. These are questionable as they do not specify the area to be covered nor do they achieve irrigation,” says Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.
Instead, without achieving the targets, further funds are released. Accusing the states of
“treating AIBP like a milking cow”, Thakkar points to examples like the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which has been provided maximum funding under AIBP without delivering benefits downstream, particularly in Gujarat. Worse, the PAC report reveals that so far only around 100 major/medium and minor projects have been completed of the 238 funded till 2008-09. As is inevitable, in the blame game, nobody is taking the onus for glitches and lapses.
“Irrigation targets are set year after year. They neither specify area to be covered nor do they achieve irrigation.”
Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People
Inspections by CAG teams have revealed that many of the completed projects exist only on paper. In many cases, there is no way the water from the source can reach the farmers due to varied problems, ranging from missing links to improper planning and construction to the water passage being clogged by vegetation and/or silt. So while crores worth of resources have been spent, “precious groundwater is continuing to provide the lifeline for farmers in large parts of the country”, says Prof Sudhir Panwar of Kisan Jagriti Manch.
Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Manipur, Meghalaya are among states where irregularity in project implementation has been noticed. As the CAG report stresses, financial management is poor, with “large-scale diversion of AIBP funds for other purposes, grant of undue benefits and other cases of irregular and unauthorised expenditure”.
Some of the projects where major shortcomings have been noted are the Agra Canal Project, where the water quality is an issue; the Mahi Bajaj Sagar Project in Rajasthan, which has no mechanism for ensuring water availability till tail-end; the Western Kosi Main Canal in Bihar, which suffers from both silt upstream and breakage in Saharghat Branch Canal; Sone Canal, which faces problems of high vegetation and incomplete link canal; and the Vehalam D Minor and Jafarpur Minor projects in Gujarat, which are getting no water from the Sardar Sarovar Project.
“A state government is not as interested in AIBP as the clearances are time-consuming. Our needs too are different.”
N.K. Premachandran, Kerala water resources minister
“Why talk of new projects when existing ones suffer from lack of maintenance and cleaning of silt and vegetation, for which inflated bills are furnished,” asks Krishan Bir Chaudhary of Bharatiya Krishak Samaj. The PAC blames the Centre for granting project approval and funding without proper scrutiny and monitoring, resulting in project delays of up to eight years and cost overrun of 28 per cent to 916 per cent.
Prof Saifuddin Soz, former Union minister of water resources, told Outlook that, during his tenure in UPA-i, he had found the Central Water Commission ill-equipped to undertake monitoring on such a large scale. “I had come to the conclusion that the (AIBP) project be scrapped and was wanting to go to the cabinet,” reveals Soz. “Instead of AIBP, I was keen that the Centre provide funds and technical support and leave it to the states to create irrigation potential according to their requirements.” The current minister, Salman Khurshid, was not available for comment.
To improve the outcome of AIBP, officials at the water resources ministry state that a new agreement has been devised since 2008-09 setting a fixed timeline for project completion with “any cost overruns due to delays to be borne by the state government”. So far, 70-80 projects have been signed under the new terms. Giving a state perspective, Kerala water resources minister N.K. Premachandran says, “Admitted there are some deficiencies in implementation, but a state government’s interest in the AIBP is limited as the clearances are time-consuming. Moreover, our requirements are different.”
The usual contentious issues like inter-state water disputes, litigation over land acquisitions and environment clearances are factors cited by planners for the low translation of irrigation potential to actual utilisation. It is a classic case of the water pipeline reaching your colony, but not your home. It’s time to ask: who’s manning the pipes?