The Kerala government’s refusal to start new irrigation projects and its eagerness to scrap existing ones raise doubts about clarity of policy. The government has budgeted only Rs 413 crore for large and medium irrigation projects for the next year.
Of this, Rs 250 crore will go to World Bank-aided Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP), which is not even a state government scheme. The RIDF project implemented in association with the Nabard takes another Rs 40 crore.
In effect, the state government has earmarked only Rs 123 crore for its own projects. Even this is not a fair breakup, considering that Rs 70 crore will be paid as salaries to the staff.
So we are left with only Rs 53 crore. The government has granted Rs 5 crore to build a new dam at Mullaperiyar! That money will remain safe with the government forever.
The Idamalayar dam has been granted Rs 20 crore but the staff will walk away with more than half of it. The project which does not even require a chief engineer to man it, employs seven of them plus hundreds of engineers and officials. The Irrigation Department has no work for them.
The observation that Kerala’s uneven topography is not suited for irrigation projects is nonsensical. Irrigation is not only meant for paddy fields. The projects have to be altered to make them useful for cash crops.
If other states can raise crops worth Rs 10,000 crore from an acre, Kerala can earn up to Rs 50,000 per acre. The government is sure to get back whatever it has spent on irrigation within 10 years. All it has to do is to lay pipes to supply water to farms and facilitate drip irrigation.
The first step is to rejuvenate the canals that have been lost to disuse. Large amounts of water and electricity can be saved by switching to drip irrigation.
The government was unable to budget for the projects in Chenkallar (Rs 40 crore), Choondapipuzha (Rs 426 crore) and AVIP (Rs 560 crore) in the Cauvery basin even after preparing DPR.
The state is entitled to 60 to 90 percent of central aid under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sanjay Yojana (PMKS) but we have not even submitted a project for this. Not even for the Green Climate Fund meant to counter the effects of climate change. States such as Odisha have already received the money.
The government has a duty to convert irrigation projects to suit the topography of Kerala and the needs of the future, rather than maintaining them as a safe haven for officials who have no work.
We have to bear in mind that canals have an integral function in recharging wells in their vicinity.
(The writer is a legislator representing Chittoor in Palakkad district)