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Development and modernization of irrigation in Maharashtra

Er Shri S.T. Deokule

Former Secretary of Irrigation
of the Government of Maharashtra

Respected personalities on the dais, honourable guests, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

I am very happy to have this opportunity of participating in the inauguration ceremony of the Fifth International Network meeting on Information Techniques for Irrigation Systems focusing on the modernization of irrigation system operations. It is heartening to note that a large number of experts of international repute are participating in this meeting in addition to top irrigation professionals from all over India, including a large contingent of the cream of irrigation functionaries from Maharashtra. With such a participating body of top experts, I am sure the presentations and the discussions on the topic will result in a thorough compilation of experiences on the theme of modernization of irrigation systems and that guidelines for reference in the matter will be formulated for use by the world irrigation community.

I was also fortunate in attending the inauguration ceremony of WALMI, Aurangabad, in 1980 under the aegis of the World Bank. In the last eighteen years, this institute has grown to international status, primarily due to its faculty and facilities and also to contributions received by various visiting professors and experts from all over the world. You will find the atmosphere here to be very congenial for deliberations in this network meeting.

In this vast country, irrigation in various forms has been practised for ages and a large number of various types of old irrigation systems are still in operation with their own well-established irrigation practices evolved out of experience. Furthermore, during the various five-year plans, from the first to now the ninth, a large programme of construction of various types of irrigation systems has been undertaken and phenomenal progress has been achieved. The ultimate potential of about 120 million hectares of irrigation, as currently assessed by various sources in this country, is likely to be achieved in the second decade of the next century.

In each state, and even in parts of each state, there is tremendous variation in the basic environmental factors such as rainfall pattern and intensity, ground profiles, soil types and depths, spread of rural population, and agricultural practices, and obviously irrigation policies and practices have to be developed keeping in mind these basic factors. The salient features of the irrigation schemes taken up for execution in the past were primarily and obviously based on the experience of existing similar schemes in each state. However, at the beginning of operations in these new irrigation projects, a number of problems were faced for which specific solutions were found over time. In this continuous process of learning, in addition to the phenomenal work done by the irrigation fraternity in this country, the contribution received from the international community has also to be acknowledged.

Maharashtra is the leading industrialized state in India, but its current development of only 13 percent of its irrigation potential is far below the national average of about 33 percent. The land developed so far in the state by the large and medium-sized irrigation projects is only about 56 percent of the currently identified ultimate potential of 4.1 million hectares. The state has a rugged terrain, and a large number of rivers originate here, resulting in many comparatively small irrigation projects. However, the total number of dams of more than 15 metres in height built in Maharashtra is about 900, compared to 2 900 countrywide, so the state can claim to be the leading dam builder in the country. Irrigation is a state subject and the state has a force of about 15 000 engineers and more than 120 000 men working in investigation, planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of the irrigation systems. The state spends Rs10 to 12 billion every year to manage some 3 million hectares of surface irrigation. This gives an indication of the amount of work which is being done here on irrigation development and management. The current strategy is to optimize irrigation efforts so as to provide irrigation facilities to larger areas and to a greater number of farmers. This needs to be done at the cheapest possible rate and refinements will have to come later. Despite all these efforts, a large percentage of the area will remain rain-fed and subjected to the vagaries of nature.

Similarly, current efforts in the country as a whole are primarily aimed at creating additional irrigation potential through the launching of new projects and maintenance of existing irrigation schemes. As maintenance grants have been meagre, the accumulated effect of inadequate maintenance has been a substantial reduction in project benefits for some of the older systems. Hence, for some older projects in the state as in the country, renovation or rehabilitation was carried out to restore the original capabilities and in some projects extensions were made.

The modernization of irrigation systems does not mean merely an improvement of the engineering parameters such as lining of canals or improvement and modification of structures, but also the application of a complex combination of field disciplines to irrigated agriculture. As such, modernization has to cover not only the engineering but also the agronomic and management aspects. The modernization of existing projects has hence to be taken along with their restoration and rehabilitation. Detailed diagnostic analysis or performance evaluation needs to be carried out to identify, quantify and execute the required measures.

Several individual efforts have also been made to modernize existing irrigation systems so as to achieve better water use, after studying and thoroughly analysing the irrigation systems concerned. The Central Water Commission of the government of India has formulated guidelines for the modernization of existing irrigation projects. According to these guidelines, a review of such factors as hydrology, land potential, cropping patterns, crop water requirements, physical features of the canal system, groundwater, drainage, water management and environmental management, and economic evaluation has to be made. Required modifications have to be identified and provided for in the modernization projects. In addition, participatory irrigation management and operation plans for improved use of the canal system also need to be included. We propose to achieve the synthesis of all these requirements through this workshop by the documentation and dissemination of experiences of modernization.

For the control of canal and distribution systems, the traditional means of communication in Maharashtra consisted of telegraph and telephone facilities installed at critical locations along the canal alignment. This system, simple in operation, was in use for a very long period and it is only in the last decade or so that the wireless system is progressively replacing it. Although the wireless communication system, along with centralized control, has been used for a fairly long time for flood control, as well as for other purposes such as police or military communications, its use for irrigation management was permitted only recently, after the relaxation of restrictions on the use of wireless systems for civil purposes. So far, 1096 wireless network stations have been installed all over the state and the main centres connected through satellite. Thus an effective system for flood control and irrigation management is now available in this state.

A very ambitious programme to introduce a computerized management information system for the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation of the irrigation department of the government of Maharashtra has been undertaken so that all the executives of the corporation are connected to headquarters, in order to ensure a prompt flow of information and its analysis for use by the corporation. The hardware is in position and the software modules for items such as project and contract management, land acquisition and personnel, financial and water management are installed.

The western part of our state, known as the Kokan area, consists of very rugged terrain and the heavy rainfall there during the four monsoon months allows the growing of only one rice crop, by field-to-field irrigation. A pilot project has been started to develop a water control system in order to diversify cropping patterns in the coastal areas of Maharashtra. This will be achieved notably through piped water distribution, right down to individual fields.

For the existing Khadakwasla irrigation project, a canal automation project has been undertaken in collaboration with the Department of Electronics of the central government. Once it is fully implemented, the use of computerized information technology in irrigation water management should expand progressively.

Tomorrow you will visit the Jayakwadi Project, which is one of the largest irrigation projects in this state, with about 400 000 hectares of irrigation potential. The project has been carried out in phases and fraught with a number of construction and irrigation problems. Since 1970, it has been assisted by the World Bank, both financially and through guidance in the form of expert advice and the use of various types of pilot projects, including the pilot dynamic regulation project which will be discussed in detail in this meeting.

I have just recounted the various advances made by the progressive and dynamic irrigation department of Maharashtra, as the state is entering an era of use of modern techniques in irrigation management. As such, this is the most appropriate time for holding this fifth ITIS meeting here so that this innovative state and the irrigation community as a whole may benefit immensely from the dialogue and discussions regarding the application of information techniques in the modernization of irrigation system operations.

I wish the seminar success and thus conclude my inaugural address. Thank you.

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