The latest edition of the Minor Irrigation Census (MIC) — a compendium of borewells, tubewells, and other privately owned irrigation sources by farmers — finds that electricity is the dominant source of power to extract water, over diesel, windmills, and solar pumps.
While the use of electricity showed a quantum jump from powering only 56% of sources in 2011 to 70% in 2017, the latest report, made public last week, shows electricity as powering 76% of sources – a slower growth rate.
The MIC reports aren’t a reflection of the present state of use. The data made public in the latest, sixth edition of the report, reflects irrigation trends in 2017-18. Similarly the report released in 2017, or the fifth edition, reflected data in 2013-14 and the report of 2011, the situation in 2006-07. Because data collection requires collecting granular data down to the block level, it takes a few years to compile and make the data public.
This electrification of groundwater withdrawal corresponds to a rise in the use of tubewells and borewells that are capable of extracting water at greater depths. While ‘dugwells’ or ponds that can draw water from a maximum depth of 15 metres, remain the dominant source of groundwater, their number has declined from 87 lakh to 82 lakh between the fifth and sixth editions. ‘Shallow’ tubewells, capable of drawing water from up to 35 metres too have declined from 59 lakh to 55 lakh.
However ‘medium-sized’ wells – capable of withdrawing water from up to 70 metres - grew from 31 lakh to 43 lakh and ‘deep’ wells (beyond 70m) rose from 26 lakh to 37 lakh.
While excessive groundwater withdrawal has been a matter of long-standing concern, the report doesn’t discuss the causes for the increase of more powerful, and deep-reaching tubewells. “The groundwater situation varies across the country. State governments announce schemes where farmers are incentivised or get access to loans to buy such tubewells. So that could be an explanation. However the lower growth in electrification is also likely to be a result of greater emphasis on energy efficient water extraction,” an officer familiar with the Census, but who declined to be identified, told The Hindu.
Overall, 23.14 million Minor Irrigation (MI) schemes were reported in the country from 695 districts and 6,47,394 villages. Out of all MI schemes, 21.93 million (94.8%) were for groundwater (GW) and 1.21 million (5.2%) for surface-water (SW) extraction.
Uttar Pradesh had the largest number of MI schemes in the country (17.2%) followed by Maharashtra (15.4%), Madhya Pradesh (9.9%) and Tamil Nadu (9.1%). Leading States in GW schemes are Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana whereas Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Odisha and Jharkhand have the highest share in SW schemes.
The number of MI schemes increased by about 1.42 million between the fifth and sixth editions. Most of the schemes (96.6%) were privately owned and small and marginal farmers, having less than two hectares of land, owned the majority of MI schemes.