Behind MP’s Amazing Irrigation Growth

DB Post 25 Aug 2018


Disasters can become a learning experience. Think of irrigation department in Madhya Pradesh, and one is forced to think of Arvind Joshi, an IAS officer sacked after an income tax raid on his house yielded Rs three crore in cash. Joshi was heading the water resources department in MP at the time of the raid eight years ago.

“That was the turning point,” says Radheshyam Julaniya, additional chief secretary of water resources department. The senior IAS officer, known to be brutally frank, ads: “If Arvind Joshi had not happened, things might not have changed so fast.”

When Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan hand-picked an unwilling Julaniya to head the tainted department in the aftermath of the scandal, the situation was not exactly rosy.

Julaniya turned the challenge into an opportunity. Apart from government canals, MP has managed to establish an impressive network of tube wells, dug wells and ponds by incentivising private endeavours like Kapildhara.

Growth despite drought

The gross irrigated area has gone up from 61.97 lakh hectares in 2004-5 to 110 lakh hectares at present. Boasts Water Resources Minister Narottam Mishra: “The total irrigated area under government schemes has gone up from 7.5 lakh hectares to 40 lakh hectares during BJP regime.”

Last year, despite drought in 18 districts, MP recorded a whopping 31 per cent increase in foodgrain production, probably the highest rate of growth in the world! And as chief secretary BP Singh points out, “due to augmented capacity and prudent water management we did not face serious drinking water crisis last summer.”

The progress made in irrigation is considered one of the biggest reasons behind MP’s spectacular growth in agriculture production.

Agriculture production grew by 142 per cent between 2003-4 and 2016-17, from 2.24 crore MT to 5.44 crore MT. The average rate of growth during this period was 18 per cent, with MP winning national awards for highest food production five times. It has become second only to Punjab in its contribution to the central wheat pool.

Problem of plenty

It is true that the glut in the market has brought in its wake problem of plenty. The government machinery has failed to rein in the traders’ cartels that indulge in profiteering, fleecing the state exchequer, the farmers as well as the consumers. According to NSSO survey, half the farmers in MP are debt ridden. But these are separate issues.

Julaniya, a dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrat, gives credit for the stupendous achievement in irrigation to the “political support” from the chief minister: “It happened because he wanted that to happen.”

Chouhan, on his part, seems to be enamoured of Julaniya’s talent. Julaniya was actually brought back to irrigation department last year when things were not looking well for a while. The 1985 batch officer is now considered architect of the irrigation boom.

The Julaniya touch

How did he achieve it? Julaniya, 56, is considered a hard taskmaster, with some rough edges. He may be a little short on charm, but he is known for excellent delivery.

He works like a driven man and expects others also to do the same. “12 hours non-stop back to back meetings are a norm with him,” says a close associate. I could buttonhole him between his numerous and perennial meetings.

“I started with organising field meetings,” recalled Julaniya, “and prioritising completion of incomplete project.” 700 to 800 projects were 80 per cent incomplete due to erratic fund allocation.

Heavyweight politicians used to sway decisions in their favour. Julaniya introduced time-bound, goal-oriented programmes, resulting in 150 projects getting completed within two months of his joining.

Improved management resulted in 3-fold increase in government irrigated area from 9.4 lakh hectares in 2010-11 to 29.10 lakh hectares in 2014-15. During the same period, capital investment doubled from Rs 3,965 crore to Rs 8,670 crore.

Kapildhara helped private initiative

According to paper submitted by RS Julaniya, Manish Singh, MG Choubey and Shubhankar Biswas at World Irrigation Forum’ s meeting in Thailand in 2016, improved management of existing schemes alone resulted in additional irrigation on 10. 30 lakh hectares of land.

The cabinet appreciated the result and gave a free hand to the officer. The state moved away from previous build-neglect-rehabilitate model, increasing the maintenance budget by a factor of 7, from Rs 112 per hectares to Rs 820 per hectare. “We applied strict criteria to approve new projects, based on viability, free from political interference,” says Julaniya.

Recalls former chief secretary R Parasuram, during whose tenure most of these reforms took place: “We laid emphasis on last mile connectivity, starting from tail-end of canals. We completed, without political interference, incomplete projects.”

Another important reason was promotion of Kapildhara, the biggest project of wells and tubewells in private sector.  That succeeded because a modern farmer, given the choice, he would never like to wait for the government or the God for irrigating his fields.

Powers That Be, my column in DB Post of 25 August 2018, updated 28 August 2018





3 Replies to “Behind MP’s Amazing Irrigation Growth”

  1. how is that turning adversity into opportunity………..those so called adversities were self inflicted…be it mismanagement, political interference or erratic fund management………..did the Saheb not know of it earlier that it took a raid to set things in order……are political powers and interventions in the state bigger than the saheb itself ???
    and any which way i doubt these figures coz i dont see them on the ground even in bhopal the canals are in bad shape, polluted most of the irrigation is being done using raw sewage water

  2. its commendable indeed.. Now, ofcourse after the elections the CM should go one step further in improving the quality of irrigation from flood irrigation easting water to drip and sprinker irrigation, conserving the precious resource for other use

    1. I agree. Incidentally, Mr Julaniya and his team are already moving in the direction of drip irrigation and pressurised piped water irrigation. They hope to cover more area with the same quantity of water in phase 2.

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