The model of agriculture that is being promoted in India - executed through innovated seeds and mechanised farming - mandates proper power and water supply. However, governmental sources claim 55% of India's agrarian land is not covered by irrigation. The natural fresh water sources are not enough to contribute meaningfully to irrigate the country’s agricultural lands.
According to the ‘Annual Report 2017-18’ published by the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Government of India, “There has been a continuous decline in the share of agriculture and allied sectors in the GVA from 18.6% in 2013-14 to 17.4% in 2016-17.” The intensity of the problem can be identified when the same report states, “54.6% of the population is engaged in agriculture and allied activities.” Although India is the second largest irrigated country of the world after China, only one-third of the cropped area is under irrigation. Irrigation is the most important agricultural input in a tropical monsoon country like India where rainfall is uncertain, unreliable and erratic.
The government has recognised the irrigation crisis. Under its ‘Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana’ (PMKSY), the government is trying to implement a host of measures with the objective of developing a long term solution for mitigating the effect of drought and increasing area under irrigation. It is being given an annual outlay of Rs. 50,000 crore and is aiming to achieve convergence of investments in irrigation at the field level, expand cultivable area under assured irrigation, improve on farm water use efficiency to reduce wastage of water, enhance the adoption of precision irrigation and other water saving technologies (More Crop Per Drop), promote sustainable water conservation practices. It also aims to create protected irrigation by using rainwater.
Under the ‘More Crop Per Drop’ component of PMSKY, governmental agencies are focusing on water use efficiency enhancement and supplementary drought proofing measures. An important segment of this is related to micro irrigation. During 2017-18, an amount of Rs. 1610.00 crore and Rs. 594.90 crore has been released as on December 31, 2017 to states for ‘micro irrigation’ and for ‘other interventions’ respectively under ‘Per Drop More Crop’ component. Drip irrigation is being encouraged as a type of micro irrigation. This system saves water and nutrients by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants by giving water directly into the roots.
The Indian agricultural is increasingly mechanising its activities. Rentals of all tractor-related farm operations have risen by about 20% over the last year. The share of fuel in the cost of cultivation is about 10-15% but is coming down with increased electrification. However, Gross Capital Formation (GCF) in agriculture and allied sectors relative to GVA in this sector has been showing a fluctuating trend from 16.5% in 2012-13 to 16.4% in 2015-16. The benefits of mechanisation have translated better for large land holdings as compared to smaller land holdings. The successful implementation of the Green Revolution in predominantly large agricultural holdings of the states of Punjab and Haryana is a case in point.
There has been a sharp growth in electricity use in the agriculture sector, especially since the 1980s, with consumption rising from 3,465 million units (mu) in 1969 (8% of total consumption) to 173,185 mu in 2016 (17%). This is supplied either free or at subsidised rates, and a large part of it is not measured. The importance of the linkages is seen from the fact that all of the electricity supplied to agriculture is used for pumping water which is mostly groundwater for irrigation. Close to 85% of pumping energy used in agriculture comes from electricity, the rest being mainly from diesel. The net area irrigated by groundwater increased seven-fold from 5.98 million ha in 1950-51 to 42.44 million ha in 2013-14. In the same period, canal irrigated area rose only two-fold, from 8.29 million ha to 16.28 million ha.
However, with agricultural income dipping alarmingly and the prices of diesel spiraling, there is need for more concerted efforts to increase the distribution of free or cheap electricity to India’s farmlands. Farmers using diesel pumps for irrigation will be incurring an additional cost of Rs. 1,500-2,000 per acre. The government must enhance the penetration of electricity to pull India’s agrarian sector out of its present state of misery.