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Tribune Special
Punjab lets its canals run dry
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 23
For decades, Punjab has been fighting battles with its neighbouring states over river waters. However, what has gone wrong with its own canal irrigation network over the years, its political masters have failed to address.

The capacity to irrigate the area through canal network in the state came down to just about 28 per cent by 2006-07 whereas it was more than 42 per cent in 1990-91. It has happened mostly because of neglect of canal network over the years.

Interestingly, irrigation through tube well network has gone up from 57 per cent in 1990-91 to 71 per cent by the 2006-07. In 1990-91 the total irrigated area in Punjab was 39,09,000 hectares. Through canals the area irrigated during that year was 16,60,000 hectares and through tube wells 22,33,000 hectares.

In 2001-01 the area irrigated by canals came down to 9,62,000 hectares and through tube wells it went up to 30,74,000 hectares. However, with the introduction of subsidised power instead of free power by the Amarinder government in 2003-04, the area irrigated through canal network went up to 11,29,000 hectares. Since then it has remained more or less in the range of 11,30,000 hectares, whereas the area irrigated through tube wells has remained more or less in the range of 29,15,000 hectares.

Punjab has a network of about 11 lakh tubewells. It’s net cultivable area is 43,00,000 hectares and net irrigated area 40,60,000 hectares. Of the cultivable area land under canal irrigation is 31,00,000 hectares. However, of the 31,00,000 hectares under canal command, only about 1140 thousand hectares is now irrigated through the canal network. If 80 per cent of the command area is irrigated through the canal network, then Punjab will need 3.5 lakh tube wells. And pumping of the subsoil water will also come down by 70 per cent. Of course, the availability of river waters has come down and average rainfall in the region has gone down substantially. But the main reason for decline in canal irrigation is lack of supervision and failure of the authorities concerned to maintain the canal irrigation system.

Sources said the overall water carrying capacity of the existing canal network at present is less by 20 per cent of the approved level.

“During the British time and even after Independence, JEs, SDOs and XENs used to be rewarded by giving additional increments in case for achieving optimal level of canal irrigation in their respective areas and defaulters used to be punished, but now there is no accountability,” said G.S. Dhillon, a retired chief engineer (irrigation).



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