IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


4th September, 2023 Economy

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Picture Courtesy: micensus.gov.in

Context: The Ministry of Jal Shakti released the 6th census report on minor irrigation schemes. According to the report, there has been an increase of approximately 1.42 million minor irrigation (MI) schemes compared to the 5th census. At the national level, both Groundwater (GW) and Surface Water (SW) schemes have seen an increase of 6.9% and 1.2%, respectively.


  • The report provides a comprehensive overview of minor irrigation (MI) schemes in India, including information on various parameters such as irrigation sources, irrigation potential created and utilized, ownership, landholding size of owners, devices used for lifting water, sources of energy, and the use of energy-conserving devices like sprinkler and drip irrigation. It also includes data on non-conventional energy sources such as solar pumps and windmills.

Summary of the Report

  • The report covers various critical parameters related to minor irrigation (MI) schemes, including the types of irrigation sources, the potential created and utilized, ownership patterns, landholding sizes of owners, water-lifting devices, energy sources, and the adoption of energy-efficient technologies like sprinkler and drip irrigation. It also includes data on non-conventional energy sources like solar pumps and windmills.
  • Uttar Pradesh emerges as the state with the highest number of MI schemes, followed by Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. Regarding groundwater (GW) schemes, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana lead the way, while states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Odisha, and Jharkhand have the largest share of surface water (SW) schemes.
  • The report is expected to be valuable for a diverse group of stakeholders, including planners, policymakers, researchers, agricultural and groundwater scientists, administrators, and anyone involved in the development of irrigation and the agricultural sector in India.
  • Electricity has been increasingly used for groundwater extraction, driven by the adoption of tubewells and borewells capable of drawing water from greater depths. Although dugwells remain the dominant source of groundwater, their numbers have declined slightly, and shallow tubewells have also decreased. Conversely, medium-sized and deep wells have experienced growth in numbers.
  • The report does not explicitly investigate the specific causes behind the increased use of more powerful and deep-reaching tubewells. However, it is suggested that state governments may have implemented schemes to incentivize or facilitate access to loans for farmers looking to purchase such tubewells.

Minor Irrigation


  • Minor irrigation refers to the irrigation practices that involve small-scale water management systems designed to provide water to agricultural fields on a limited scale. It typically covers small water sources and structures, often at the local or individual farm level.
  • Minor irrigation systems are essential for supplementing the water needs of crops, especially in areas where major irrigation projects or large dams are not feasible.

Features of Minor Irrigation

Small-Scale Infrastructure

  • Minor irrigation systems are characterized by their small-scale nature. They consist of relatively modest structures and equipment, such as wells, borewells, tube wells, check dams, and tanks. These structures are designed to provide water to a limited area of agricultural land. Unlike major irrigation projects that cover large regions, minor irrigation focuses on serving local or individual farming needs.

Localized Application

  • Minor irrigation systems are tailored to cater to the specific water requirements of individual farmers or small groups of farmers. This localized approach is well-suited for fragmented agricultural plots where the water needs of different fields may vary. Farmers can control and manage these systems to ensure that water is distributed efficiently to their crops.

Diverse Water Sources

  • Minor irrigation systems draw water from various sources, depending on local hydrological conditions. This diversity includes groundwater, which is often assessed through tube wells and borewells, as well as surface water from sources like check dams and tanks. In addition, rainwater harvesting techniques are sometimes incorporated to capture and store precipitation for irrigation use. The choice of water source depends on factors such as water availability and geographical location.


  • One of the key advantages of minor irrigation systems is their relative affordability, especially for small and marginal farmers. These farmers may not have the financial resources to invest in large-scale irrigation infrastructure. Minor irrigation systems are often designed to be cost-effective and manageable by individual farmers or local communities, making them accessible to a broader segment of the farming population.

Supplementary Role

  • Minor irrigation systems primarily serve as a supplement to rainfed agriculture. They play a crucial role in ensuring a consistent and reliable water supply, particularly during dry periods or when rainfall is insufficient. By providing supplementary irrigation, these systems help farmers maintain crop growth and yields, reducing the risk of crop failure due to water scarcity.

Significance of Minor Irrigation

Increased Agricultural Productivity

  • Minor irrigation systems provide a consistent and reliable water supply, allowing farmers to cultivate crops throughout the year, regardless of seasonal variations in rainfall. This increased water availability supports higher crop yields and improved agricultural productivity. Farmers can optimize their planting and harvesting schedules, leading to better economic returns.

Risk Mitigation

  • Dependency on rainfall alone can be risky, as erratic weather patterns and droughts can lead to crop failures and financial losses. Minor irrigation acts as a risk mitigation strategy by reducing reliance on unpredictable rainfall. Farmers have better control over their water supply, ensuring that crops receive adequate moisture even during dry spells. This resilience helps safeguard their income and food security.

Crop Diversification

  • With the assurance of water from minor irrigation systems, farmers have the flexibility to diversify their crop choices and engage in multiple cropping cycles throughout the year. Crop diversification not only enhances the nutritional variety of local diets but also contributes to better food security. Additionally, it can lead to increased income by tapping into markets for various crops.

Empowerment of Small Farmers

  • Minor irrigation systems empower small and marginal farmers who may have limited access to resources and face greater vulnerabilities. By providing these farmers with control over their water resources, they gain autonomy and are less reliant on external factors such as landlords or middlemen for water access. This empowerment leads to increased decision-making power and economic independence.

Sustainable Agriculture

  • Minor irrigation systems promote sustainable water management practices. When combined with efficient water use technologies like drip and sprinkler irrigation, they help conserve water resources. Sustainable practices ensure the long-term availability of water for irrigation, prevent over-extraction of groundwater and contribute to environmental conservation. By adopting these systems, farmers can achieve higher yields while minimizing their environmental footprint.

Steps Taken by India

Financial Support

  • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY): PMKSY is a flagship scheme of the Indian government aimed at providing financial support and incentives to farmers for various water-related activities, including minor irrigation. It promotes the development of sustainable water use practices, improved infrastructure, and efficient water management.
  • National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA): NMSA includes components focused on enhancing water use efficiency and promoting minor irrigation. It provides financial support to farmers for adopting modern irrigation technologies and practices that reduce water wastage and improve crop yields.

Technology Adoption

  • Drip and Sprinkler Irrigation: India has encouraged the adoption of modern irrigation technologies such as drip and sprinkler irrigation systems. These technologies help improve water use efficiency by delivering water directly to the root zone of crops, reducing water wastage through evaporation and runoff.

Rainwater Harvesting

  • India has actively promoted rainwater harvesting techniques as part of its water management strategy. Rainwater harvesting structures, such as rooftop rainwater harvesting and check dams, are encouraged to capture and store rainwater. This stored water can then be used for minor irrigation, recharging groundwater aquifers, and meeting household water needs.

Community-Based Initiatives

  • Many states in India have initiated community-based water management systems, often in the form of Watershed Development Projects. These projects involve local communities in the planning, implementation, and management of minor irrigation systems.
  • Communities play a vital role in the maintenance of check dams, farm ponds, and other water-harvesting structures, ensuring their sustainability and equitable distribution of water resources.


  • Access to Credit: Many farmers lack the financial resources to invest in minor irrigation systems, such as tube wells, pumps, sprinklers, or drip irrigation. They often have difficulty in obtaining loans from formal sources, such as banks or cooperatives, due to high-interest rates, collateral requirements, or bureaucratic hurdles.
  • Energy Costs: Minor irrigation systems require energy to operate, which can be costly for farmers. Electricity supply is often unreliable or unavailable in rural areas, forcing farmers to use diesel generators, which are expensive and polluting. Alternatively, farmers may use renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, but these may have high upfront costs or technical challenges.
  • Sustainability: Minor irrigation systems can have negative impacts on the environment and the long-term availability of water resources. Over-extraction of groundwater can lower the water table and deplete the aquifers, leading to water scarcity and salinity problems. Moreover, inefficient use of water can cause wastage, runoff, soil erosion, and nutrient leaching.
  • Technical Knowledge: Farmers need adequate training and technical knowledge to install, operate, and maintain minor irrigation systems effectively. They need to know how to select the appropriate system for their crops and soil conditions, how to optimize water use efficiency, how to prevent or repair malfunctions, and how to monitor and evaluate the performance of the system.
  • Climate Change: Climate change poses a major challenge to the effectiveness of minor irrigation systems. Changing rainfall patterns can affect the availability and reliability of water sources, such as rivers, lakes, or groundwater. Erratic weather patterns can also affect crop growth and water demand, requiring farmers to adjust their irrigation schedules and practices accordingly.

Way Forward

  • Capacity Building: Investing in training and capacity-building programs for farmers is crucial. These programs can help farmers understand modern irrigation technologies, best practices for water management, and how to optimize their irrigation systems. This knowledge can lead to improved crop yields and resource conservation.
  • Energy Efficiency: Promoting energy-efficient technologies, like solar-powered pumps, is not only environmentally friendly but also cost-effective for farmers. These technologies can reduce operational costs associated with irrigation, making it more accessible and affordable.
  • Groundwater Management: Sustainable groundwater management is essential to prevent over-extraction and depletion of groundwater resources. Implementing measures like monitoring and regulating groundwater usage can help ensure its availability for future generations.
  • Community Participation: Involving local communities in the planning, management, and maintenance of minor irrigation systems fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility. It also ensures that the systems are tailored to the specific needs of the community.
  • Research and Innovation: Investing in research and innovation can lead to the development of cost-effective and sustainable irrigation solutions. This can include the creation of new technologies, improved irrigation practices, and water-saving techniques.
  • Government Support: Continued government support through financial incentives and subsidies is crucial for small and marginal farmers to access and adopt minor irrigation systems. These incentives can make the initial investment more manageable and encourage wider adoption.
  • Climate Resilience: Incorporating climate-resilient practices and technologies is essential in the face of changing weather patterns. This can include drought-resistant crops, weather forecasting systems, and water storage solutions to adapt to varying climatic conditions.


  • The 6th census report on minor irrigation schemes in India provides a comprehensive snapshot of irrigation practices in the country, with a particular focus on the rising use of electricity for groundwater extraction and shifts in the types of irrigation sources employed across different Indian states.

Must Read Articles:

Irrigation Census: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/irrigation-census

FIRST CENSUS OF WATER BODIES: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/first-census-of-waterbodies


Q. What are the key features of a minor irrigation scheme, and what significance does it hold in the context of agricultural development? What are the major challenges faced in implementing and managing such schemes, and what strategies can be recommended for the way forward to ensure their effectiveness and sustainability?