‘Gujarat Model Gone Bust’: Study reveals Poor Irrigation Planning and Obfuscating Strategies

Written by Sabrang India | Published on: April 18, 2019

Image Courtesy: socialism.in

The much touted ‘Gujarat model’ is facing a backlash from the poor and vulnerable farmers in the state of Gujarat. A study called ‘Gujarat’s Agricultural ‘Miracle’: At What Cost?’ by Persis Ginwalla and Sagar Rabari provides evidences on the lacklustre performance of the Gujarat government in augmenting its irrigation potential. The study shows that, despite the numerous apparent efforts by the Government of Gujarat (GoG), even today more than 50% of the agriculture in Gujarat is rain-dependent. Further, the much-talked about irrigation projects have been a failure with almost 64% of it being dependent on the groundwater sources like wells and tubewells. This poses a big question on the sustainability of such an agricultural model and exposes the grave threats on the environment in the long-term. Not only this, the out-of-pocket expenditures of the farmers have increased manifold for carrying out drilling work and using electric motors for extracting water from the ground. Predictably, the GoG has left no stone unturned to conceal its failed model by obfuscating the reports and misleading the citizens.

Growth of Irrigation:

According to the Agriculture Census 1995-96, 63.94% of the total operational holdings were wholly unirrigated which rose to 67.84% in 2000-01. Since then, there has been a steady decline. Similarly, the percentage of holdings receiving irrigation (wholly and partly) rose to 23.93% in 2000-01 from 20.39% in 1995-96 and has been on a rise since then.

In the previous decade, there has been a minor increase in the overall land holdings and the area under irrigation while a net decrease in the unirrigated holdings. Thus, there has been  a significant improvement in Gujarat’s irrigation coverage which is a major reason for its substantial agricultural growth. The following table gives a summary of the same:

Despite of the impressive gains, half of the Gujarat’s agriculture continues to be rain-dependent or groundwater dependent.

Source of Irrigation:

Irrigation can happen through the surficial sources such as canals and tanks or through groundwater sources such as wells and tubewells. Surficial irrigation is preferable over groundwater irrigation as the former is more sustainable.

According to the above table, Gujarat’s irrigation model is majorly dependent on the groundwater sources that account for 62.41% of the total irrigation while only 21.34% comes from the surficial sources. Strikingly, over the past two decades, there has been a steady increase in the tubewell irrigation with a simultaneous decline in well irrigation. This is a cause of concern as the farmers have to now spend more on drilling and electricity operations which reduces their already low profits. Further, this indicates a steady depletion of the groundwater table.

Thus, the GoG’s successful efforts have come at the cost of over dependence on the groundwater sources putting a big question on the sustainability of such an agricultural model. Further, the farmers continue to dig deeper and use electric motors which shifts their status from ‘marginal, small or medium’ farmers to ‘large’ farmers. This reduces their electricity subsidies and increases their out-of-pocket expenditures.
The GoG’s initiative to revive the groundwater through its Sujalam Sufalam Yojana has contrararily increased the areas under the dark zones as the rate of extraction is higher than the recharge rate and the amount of water pumped into the canals is insufficient.

The groundwater depletion in Gujarat has reached an alarming level with one Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) study putting Gujarat among the top 15 states with depletion in water tables in wells between 2007 and 2016. The study states, “According to the information provided by the Union ministry in the Lok Sabha, the analysis of 799 wells in Gujarat conducted by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) suggested that 473 wells (59%) across the state had registered a depletion in water levels from 2007 to 2016… Of the 25 blocks defined by the CWGB, 23 are overexploited in the state. The worst affected areas are the districts in North Gujarat where depletion is more than 100% — meaning that more water is extracted from the ground than is replenished. Against the national average of 62% of groundwater resources used, Gujarat uses 72%. About 80% of this is used for irrigation. In Gujarat, the exploitation ranges from 30% to 150%.”

State of Surface Water Irrigation:

As mentioned earlier, it is essential to develop surficial sources to have a sustainable and an environment-friendly irrigation system. For this to happen, the surface water should be harnessed in the dams and transmitted to the canals which has been tried by the GoG; one of its biggest project being the Sardar Sarovar Dam. According to the data of Narmada Water Resources and Water Supply (NWRWS) department, the maximum irrigation potential realised in Gujarat has not exceeded 76% which was achieved in 1996-97. The CAG report of 2016 reiterates this wherein it examines 22 irrigation schemes which have achieved an average irrigation of only 24%. It indicts the GoG saying, “There was no long term action plan for water conservation activities. Instead, the Department took up water conservation works, mainly, canal lining and desilting of dam reservoirs in a piecemeal manner. The average CCA achieved was only 24 per cent as against the CCA created for the irrigation under 53 Irrigation Projects during 2011-12 to 2015-16. This indicated sub-optimal performance in the water conservation activities.”

Even in the case of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, only 640,000 ha. of irrigation potential has been created as of 2017-18 as compared to the planned potential of 18,45,655 ha. It means that the GoG has been able to achieve only 34.67% of the total potential. Even after 17 years, the canal network remains unfinished and the most important component of the canal network, the sub-minor canals, are at a mere 53.5% as per the NCA Annual Report of 2016-17.

Almost, 22% (57 of the 252) of the blocks have been declared as ‘dark zones’.

Misleading Reports and Obfuscation Strategies:

The GoG, through its ‘success’ reports, has tried to deliberately mislead the farmers and boast about its success. Few of the instances are:
“The ultimate irrigation potential through the surface water is assessed at 48.11 lakh hectares which includes 17.92 lakh hectares through Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) Project. Similarly, with respect to groundwater resources, it is estimated that about 20.04 lakh hectares can be irrigated. Thus the total ultimate irrigation potential through surface & groundwater is estimated to be 68.15 lakh hectares. The total irrigation potential of surface water created up to June-2017 works out to 90.62% of ultimate irrigation potential whereas maximum utilisation works out to 68.25% of the irrigation potential created.” (Socio-Economic Review, Gujarat State, 2017-18)

It is reporting on “irrigation potential created” and how much area “can be irrigated” as opposed to how much is actually realised on the ground, on which it is suspiciously silent.

Another example of its misleading reporting is the NCA Annual Report of 2016-17 which says:

“Overall 100% Main Canal, 99.90% Branch Canal and Sub-Branch Canal other than KBC, 80% of Kachchh Branch Canal, 40% Sub Branch Canal of KBC, 90% of Distributaries, 78% Minors, 100% Sub-Minors under conventional system and 41% Sub-Minor under UGPL are completed for creating irrigation potential of 79% up to Minor level and 53.50% upto Sub-Minor level up to March, 2017.”

Here, they admit to having created an irrigation potential of upto 53.5%  (987,425 ha.) but only 34.67% (640,000 ha.) has been actually provided with irrigation water. What about the rest of the 3,47,425 hectares? Where is the water going?


Thus, it is amply clear that the augmentation of the irrigation potential has been achieved through the extraction of groundwater sources, posing adverse impacts on the long-term sustainability of agriculture and at the expense of the poor farmers. The GoG is merely trying to gain vote banks through its much touted ‘Gujarat model.’

With growing unrest, joblessness and rural distress, the much touted ‘Gujarat Model’ is increasingly looking like a PR exercise and little else. This study has clearly highlighted the problems that face the farming communities of Gujarat and agriculture in general, bringing into focus yet another major area where the ‘Gujarat Model’ is coming across as a colossal failure. Even as the state and central governments claim a higher agricultural growth rate compared to the other states, it continues to face backlash from vulnerable farmers. Gujarat stands on a distant ninth position amongst all states in farmer’s income with their average monthly income being a meagre Rs. 3,573. Farmer’s unrest is prevalent, especially in the rural regions, tremors from which were felt by the ruling BJP  in assembly elections of 2017. Regrettably, in elections 2019, farmers distress is not even an election issue for the opposition parties.