The Government of India’s 15-year old AIBP has come under much-deserved criticism for all-round non-performance. It was introduced to support states in "last mile" public irrigation projects, that is, projects which are nearly completed but whose full benefits can start flowing only after small, incremental investments are made. Yet, the AIBP has been used mostly for funding new projects.
According to the paper, the AIBP needs to be taken back to the drawing board and redesigned, based on the Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (APDRP), which encourages and supports states to undertake management reform, promote accountability, restructure incentives and improve all-round performance of power utilities. This will accelerate irrigation benefits more than simply funding more dams and canals as the AIBP has done all along.
The paper states that APDRP experience offers a strong basis for AIBP reform. In particular, six lessons from APDRP should be useful in recasting the AIBP into an Accelerated Irrigation Reforms Programme (AIRP), which may help India make the crucial and much-delayed transition from an irrigation development mode to an irrigation management mode:-
- Reward Reform: GoI should focus a new-look AIRP on encouraging and supporting state governments to introduce wide-ranging reforms in the management of public irrigation systems by offering significant financial incentives for the achievement of agreed reform milestones.
- Non-Lapsable AIRP Fund: AIBP’s project focus is unsuitable for catalysing reform. Deep reforms may take place over several years; state governments may not take AIRP seriously unless GoI shows long-term commitment to reform by creating a non-lapsable AIRP fund.
- Reward Systems for Reforms at Different Levels: There is wide variation across states in their irrigation reform orientation with states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh in the forefront and many others trailing behind. An expert group, drawn from a wide spectrum of expertise in industry, commerce, public administration besides water management, needs to develop and recommend realistic mechanisms for identifying reform milestones and providing incentives for irrigation reform at several levels.
- Stem Mission Drift: Once agreed reform milestones are established, AIRP must strictly adhere to them; incentives must be paid based on independent third-party appraisal of successful reform adoption; a standing committee of experts should accept or reject claims for reform incentives.
- Expertise in ITES and Organisational Change: Public irrigation systems woefully lack systems for collecting and analysing information that provides feedback to their managers on areas and opportunities for performance improvement. Irrigation agencies should be encouraged and provided the resources to use quality expertise for building systems as well as their own capacities. Support for such assistance has been one of the key inputs of APDRP in power-sector reform; it can do the same magic with irrigation reform.
- Capacity Building for Irrigation Agencies: This critical task has been left so far to captive institutions of irrigation departments such as Water and Land Management Institutes (WALMIs) that have limited capacities themselves. If irrigation reform is to succeed, much more attention and resources need to be devoted to capacity-building of agency staff under AIRP.
The key to effective design of AIRP is the third item in the list above. The paper then gets into the details of the various levels of reform. In irrigation, devising a simple, measurable performance criterion may be a challenge, especially given the lack of credible data. Irrigation fee collection per 10,000 cubic metres of storage (or water managed) might capture several dimensions of the performance of public irrigation. Another criterion, of recent concern to the MoWR, is the ratio of potential utilised to potential created.
The most appropriate irrigation equivalent of APDRP’s cash loss reduction needs to be carefully identified. The best results of the reform might come when such a criterion is used to provide incentives for water management at the distributary level and below, as has been done to a great effect on many Chinese systems.
The public irrigation infrastructure that India has already developed over 200 years can deliver much more accelerated irrigation benefits if only it were better maintained. But, as the World Bank estimated in 2005, maintaining this existing infrastructure would cost Rs 17,000 crore a year (Briscoe and Malik 2006) against the actual maintenance expenditure today of less than Rs 1,000 crore (CWC 2010).
The paper concludes that by creating incentives and accountability, and by providing irrigation departments the resources to maintain and manage the infrastructure already created rather than building new projects, AIRP can bring about a much-needed transformation in Indian irrigation.
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