ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Evolution of Irrigation Sector

Charting the historical evolution of irrigation in India, this article looks into the nature of shifts that have occurred over the years, and the major challenges it faces now. While the Mihir Shah Committee’s recommendation of creating a National Water Commission is welcome, it suggests that the new body operate on the lines of an independent think tank. 

1 Introduction

The exact nature and form of irrigation in India and the way it is managed have changed over the years though the formal institutions entrusted with water resources have not kept pace. Irrigation development in postcolonial times began with large-scale public irrigation systems. Since the 1970s, farmers have increasingly invested in groundwater wells and pumps. Groundwater over-exploitation, water quality deterioration, and mounting electricity subsidies are among the problems that have followed. Recent trends (post-2000) show signs of a slowdown in groundwater use, which may lead to a renewed interest in surface irrigation. However, the groundwater and surface water sectors have always operated in silos and rarely interacted with farmers who, starting somewhere in the mid-1970s, took irrigation into their own hands. Traditionally, surface water has been under the purview of the Central Water Commission (CWC) and irrigation departments of different states, while groundwater assessment has been the responsibility of the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) and state groundwater departments—with little coordination between the two. So, the recommendations of the Mihir Shah Committee on the creation of a National Water Commission (NWC) that unifies the CWC and CGWB under one umbrella organisation is both critical and timely.

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