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Energy, infra vital for BJP’s irrigation drive

According to reports, with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi set to take charge as prime minister in a few days, a key agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to launch the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sinchani Yojana, an irrigation programme to provide water to every farmland.

In terms of network, the programme will be akin to the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, which seeks to provide all-weather road connectivity to unconnected villages.

The BJP’s election manifesto, which could form a blueprint for Modi’s push towards agriculture, also mentions making minimum support prices (MSPs) 50 per cent more than production costs.

It is said if implemented in a proper manner, the irrigation programme could significantly raise the total area under irrigation from the current 45 per cent. Data show only 26 per cent, 16.2 per cent and 14.4 per cent of the total cultivation area under oilseeds, pulses and coarse cereals, respectively, is irrigated. The situation is better in the case of food grains such as wheat and rice; here, 48 per cent of the total arable land in the country is irrigated.

Experts say the BJP’s plans could be of immense help in regions such as eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Odisha where the real problem isn’t availability of water, but inaccessibility. “In east Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and other eastern states, arranging proper energy and infrastructure could help reduce the gap between availability and accessibility of ground water,” Bharat Sharma, principal researcher (water resources) and coordinator, International Water Management Institute’s India programme, told Business Standard.

He added though the contours of the programme weren’t clear year, the government should make adequate provisions for energy and other infrastructure facilities to ensure most villages and farmlands had access to water. “There are three things the government should do: First, just like the state governments of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, use solar power to augment irrigation; second, improve rural institutions that could help in proper distribution of canal water; and third, the proposed National Fund for Irrigation Management should be activated with a corpus of Rs 10,000 crore in the 12th five-year Plan,” Sharma said.

Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said any mass-irrigation programme should start at the village or taluka level. “Experts who have studied the Gujarat model have shown in that state, irrigation was highly decentralised and a lot of spiritual groups have invested in check dams, etc,” he said.

He added inter-linking of rivers, another manifesto promise of the BJP, should not precede irrigation facilities. “The government should first build the irrigation network and, subsequently, move towards inter-linking of rivers.”

The promise of making MSP for farmers 50 per cent more than the cost of production is based on an idea floated by the M S Swaminathan panel a few years ago. However, experts such as former chairman of the Commission of Agriculture Costs and Prices, Ashok Gulati, had opposed it on the grounds any price decision taken without considering demand and supply could lead to hurdles.

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