Gujarat’s Agricultural ‘Miracle’: At What Cost?

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By Persis
Ginwalla & Sagar Rabari

Assured water supply is one of the main components of stable agriculture and an important factor that has supposedly contributed to the ‘phenomenal’ growth rate of agriculture in Gujarat. One of the reasons offered for this is the significant rise in the irrigation coverage in the state and the resultant rise in production. The moot question is whether there is anything to derive by way of policy which can be applied elsewhere in order to realise the same results.


this write-up we try and decode, from the data available online, from various
Government reports – central and state, as well as some academic papers and
writings, the performance of Gujarat in the last 2 decades especially in
augmenting the irrigation potential in Gujarat. We firstly examine the growth
of area under irrigation in Gujarat; then we examine the potential command area
created versus its actual utilisation and finally the creation and usage of the
Narmada command area.

Growth of Irrigation
in Gujarat

the 3 agriculture census periods, 15 years, we can see that the area under
cultivation has seen minor fluctuations. However, across the board, there has
been an increase in the overall holdings and area under irrigation and a net
decrease in the unirrigated holdings and area. So the increase in the
irrigation cover in Gujarat is certainly significant, and is rightly attributed
as one of the major reasons for the agricultural growth of Gujarat.

Year Total Holdings Wholly Irrigated Holdings Wholly Unirri. Holdings Partly irrigated holdings Holdings rec. irrigation
No. Area No. Area No. Area No. Tot. area Irri. Area No. NIA
2000-01 4239200 9876700 1067300 1901500
2812800 6701000
278200 983900 462000
1345500 2363500
2005-06 4661000 10269300 1403600 2403000
2738300 6175400
396400 1368400 699300
1799900 3102300
    +497900 +501500   -525600 +118200 +384500 +237300 +454400 +738800
2010-11 4885610

9898466 1910726 3132679
2605220 5056620
364170 1467857 943587
2274896 4076266
    +507126 +729679   -1118780 -32230 +99457 +244287 +474996 +973966

Agriculture Census, GoI

to total area

or decrease over the previous census

the Agriculture Census 2000-01, the percentage of wholly unirrigated holdings in Gujarat in 1995-96
was 63.94% of the total operational holdings which rose to 67.84% in 2000-01, and
has seen a steady decline since. 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 the rise since[1].

despite the impressive gains, it is important to iterate that more than half
the agricultural land in Gujarat remains unirrigated. This means that around half
of Gujarat’s agricultural area is rain-fed and/or dependent on groundwater
irrigation. It must be noted also that irrigation figures include both
surficial as well as groundwater. Therefore the sources of irrigation need to
be taken into account. 

Sources of

most important part of this story is when the data on irrigation is broken up
by source of irrigation. This is where the most important finding for the
future of irrigation and agriculture is to be found.

Census Year Source of Irrigation
Canals Tanks Wells Tubewells Other
1995-96 20.26 0.90 53.44 19.35 7.96
2000-01 19.24 1.27 42.03 33.87 4.64
2005-06 20.73 0.94 47.72 22.26 8.35
2010-11 20.21 1.13 37.03 25.38 16.26

 Source: For years 1995-96 and 2000-01 (

For year 2005-06

For year 2010-11

most important source of irrigation in the whole of Gujarat is “Wells[2]”,
followed by “Tubewells[3]”.
The percentage for both combined comes to 62.41% of the total irrigation
sources in Gujarat. This is important to look at since both depend on
groundwater extraction as against surficial water usage by canals and tanks
which comes to 21.34% combined. Equally importantly, the share of tubewell
irrigation has seen a steady increase over the 4 census which should be a
source of concern as it indicates the steady depletion of the ground water
tables necessitating the shift from wells to tubewells. Tubewells also indicate
an increase in the input cost for the farmer since it means an expense associated
with drilling and electricity for its operation.

while the increase in the irrigation cover for Gujarat may be impressive it has
come at the cost of overdependence on groundwater, raising serious concerns
about the sustainability of agriculture. Also, this increase has been effected
by the farmers who have done so at great personal expense. Firstly, lacking
alternatives, they are constantly going deeper to reach water sources. Deeper
drilling means increased costs and faster depletion of the groundwater level,
in turn entailing repeated drilling to go even deeper. At no point should it be
interpreted as an achievement of the GoG, which has done very little to eliminate
this overdependence on groundwater resources. Secondly, extraction of groundwater
from deeper levels means that they require to install an electric motor of
higher HP. This means more electricity consumption, but more crucially a shift
in their ‘status’ from that of marginal, small or medium farmer to ‘large’
farmer and hence a decrease in the electricity subsidy that they would
otherwise be eligible for.

and Shah (2013) have also shown in their study on the state of agriculture in
Gujarat that “the growth in farm production is confined to relatively better
off households with respect to ownership of land and water. The growth in farm
production leads to increased use of water per unit of land hence depletion of
ground water in Gujarat. Increasing cost and market related risks leads to rich
households eventually leave farming in Gujarat. Investment gets channelized to
alternative occupations and/or education in the case of Gujarat.” (2013,

Incidentally, there are reports that under a major state government
initiative to recharge the groundwater table, the Sujalam Sufalam Yojana, the
incidence of dark zones has increased in the areas from which the canal passes.
It implies that:

  1. water
    being pumped into the canal is not sufficient enough to recharge the


  • the rate
    of extraction far exceeds the recharge rate.

The overall result is that
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.

“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

order to ensure sustainability and environmental balance, the use of surface
water through harnessing it in dams and transmitting it via canals, needs to be
expanded. And Gujarat has invested, over the years since its formation, in dams
and canals. (The data, nonetheless, is poorly maintained and minimal
information is provided there.) However, the poor maintenance of the older dams
is an issue that reduces the usage of the command area created, or a complete
loss of the command area created. We examine the dams and command area created
and its usage followed by the Sardar Sarovar dam.

Dams (other than Sardar Sarovar)

surveyed some randomly selected dams from the website of Narmada Water
Resources and Water Supply (NWRWS) department which maintains the database on
the small and large dams in Gujarat. While there are massive gaps in
information on many dams, whatever data was available throws some light on the
state of these dams. Firstly, the year on year area irrigated within the
command zone is never provided. This makes it difficult to arrive at the exact
utilization or otherwise of the command area. Secondly, there are visible
errors in reporting. For instance, in many cases the CCA (Culturable Command
Area) exceeds the GCA (Gross Command Area) and the maximum irrigation (ha.)
exceeds the CCA. This is ordinarily not possible to the best of our knowledge.
Hence, our conclusion that there are errors in reporting. (They have been
reproduced in the table without any corrections and have been highlighted.)

maximum irrigation potential realised (except the erroneous reporting) has not
exceeded 76% which was achieved in 1996-97.

Dams and
Command area

and River
Scheme Gross
Command Area (GCA in ha.)1
Command Area (CCA in ha.)2
Year Area
Shetrunji Kharo 1,850 1,295 1994-95 70
Shetrunji 76,000 57,060 1994-95 32,340
Munjiasar 5,465 3,481 2007-08 1,206
Khodiyar 850 9,864 NA NA
Rajawal 329 278 1994-95 131

84,494 71,978   33,747
Machchu Machchu 18,218 10,409 1997-98 7,719
Machchu 2 12,430 9,990 1996-97 7,807
Total 30,648 20,399   15,526
Sukhbhadar Dhari 1,170 938.9 NA NA
Sukhbhadar 6,280 5,410 2007-08 538
Total 30,648 6,348   538
Bhadar Bhadar 36,842 26,587 1996-97 25,823
Chaparwadi (Lunivav) 1,414 1,133 NA NA
Ishvariya 931 455 NA NA
Moj 12,150 7,400 1997-98 5,115
Chaparwadi (Jetpur) 4,048 3,560 1998-99 2,089
Phophal 2,518 1,990 NA NA
Sankroli NA NA NA NA
Venu-2 9,259 5,253 1997-98 2,855
Bhadar-2 3,608 9,965 2006-07 439
Chhaparwadi-1 (Lunivav) 1,414 1,133 NA NA
Total 72,184 57,476   36,321
Sabarmati Dharoi 1,77,112 95,222 1993-94 40,762
Karol (Bag) NA NA NA NA
Harnav-1 4,047 2671 NA NA
Harnav-2 NA 1900 NA NA
Hathmati 73,817 51667 NA NA
Meshwo NA NA NA NA
Vasna Barrage NA NA NA NA
Watrak NA NA NA NA
Fatewadi NA NA NA NA
Total 2,54,976 1,51,460   40,762
Banas Dantiwada 80,939 45,823 1994-95 50,284
Total 80,939 45,823   50,284
Mahi Aedalwada 1,612 1,376 1998-99 967.1
Kadana 18,845 14,403 1998-99 16,413
Umariya NA NA NA NA
Hadaf 8,272 5,238 1995-96 4,165
Kabutri 2,230 1,818 1995-96 1,380
Machannala NA NA NA NA
Mahi-1 (Wanakbori) NA NA NA NA
Patadungari NA NA NA NA
Wankleshwar Bey NA NA NA NA
Bhadar (Mena-Mortalav) 22,258 8,000 NA NA
Total 53,217 30,835 22,925
Tapi Kakrapar 5,789 2,04,080 2007-08 3,39,404
Ukai 1,21,410 66,168 1999-00 88,564
Chopadvav 2,170 1,020 2002-03 695
Lakhigam 554 721 1994-95 528
Ver-2 5,879 3,558 1994-95 3,881
Ver-1 2,266 1,376 NA NA
Kankdiamba 1,007 798 1998-99 638
Total 1,39,075 2,77,721 4,33,710
Damanganga Damanganga 77,935 51,138 2006-07 10,636
Karjan Karjan 77,935 51,000 1999-00 16,594
Baldeva 2,469 2,240 1998-99 766
Total 80,404 53,240 17,360
Bhukhi Bhukhi 3,074 1,989 NA NA
Khari—Miti Jangadia 2,361 1,491 NA NA
Total 2,361 1,491
Hamirpur Hamirpura 1,347 1,053 2006-07 122
Pur Rudramata NA NA NA NA

compiled by authors

Source:; Site last updated on
March 28 2019, accessed on April 9, 2019.

year-wise irrigation figures are not available.

%age is to

1Gross command area (or GCA) is the total area which
can be economically irrigated from irrigation system without considering the
limitation on the quantity of available water. It includes
the area which is, otherwise, uncultivable.

2Culturable Command Area (CCA): The area which
can be irrigated from a scheme and is fit for cultivation.

The CAG report of 2016 also confirms this wherein
it examines 22 irrigation schemes which have achieved an average irrigation of
only 24%. It indicts that 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
page 28

Sardar Sarovar Dam

Here too, the irrigation potential
that had to be created, of 18,45,655 ha., is in 2017-18 still languishing at
6,40,000 ha. which is a mere 34.67% of the total potential. This, after almost
17 years of the Narmada water flowing in the main canal. 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.

Also see 


The augmentation of the irrigation potential in Gujarat has been
through groundwater extraction and poses adverse long-term impacts on
sustainability of agriculture, so much so that nearly 22% (57 of the 252)
blocks of the state have been declared as ‘dark zone’ talukas (Prakash, 2005).
Moreover, the augmentation has been through the effort and expense of the
individual farmers and not a state government initiative. Thus, in our opinion,
this does not offer any policy lessons (rather should not be taken as one) which
could be applied elsewhere.

[1] The figures given by
the Agriculture Census, GoG and those of GoI differ.

[2] A
well is a hole dug in the ground to obtain the subsoil water. An ordinary well
is about 3-5 metres deep.

[3] A
tubewell is a deeper well (generally over 15 metres deep) from which water is
lifted with the help of a pumping set operated by an electric motor or a diesel

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