The spate of recent farmer suicides has once again drawn the country’s attention to the deepening agrarian crisis.

Media is abuzz with opinions and expert advice on how to provide succour to the farming community. Oft-repeated among these is the demand to increase public investment in irrigation.

However, we need to remember that, since 1990, public irrigation in India has proved to be a bottomless pit.

According to a Reserve Bank of India study, between 1991 and 2007, the country invested over R2.55 lakh crore (at 2007 prices) in public canal systems. Yet, thanks to poor management, the area served by government canals decreased by 38 lakh hectares during that period. The gap between irrigation potential created and utilised has steadily increased. Without reforming management, public investment in irrigation is simply throwing good money after bad.


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