Two recently-tabled CAG audit reports in Karnataka assembly, a performance review of numerous irrigation projects by three irrigation corporations* and an audit of Command Area Development Projects point out that the deficiencies plaguing these projects ranged from faulty survey and design, erroneous estimates, irregularities in tendering, violations in land acquisition processes and tardy execution of works.

The Command Area Development (CAD) programme was introduced by the Government of India in the year 1974 with the objective of bridging the gap between irrigation potential created and irrigation potential utilized through micro-level infrastructure. This centrally-sponsored programme was launched in Karnataka state in the same year for integrated and comprehensive development of the command areas of major and medium irrigation projects.

For this purpose, the Karnataka Command Area Development Act was enacted in 1980. Command Area Development Authorities (CADAs) for Tungabhadra project (Munirabad), Malaprabha and Ghataprabha projects (Belgavi), Cauvery Basin Projects (Mysuru), Upper Krishna Project (Bheemrayanagudi), Bhadra project (Shivamogga) and Irrigation Project Zone (Kalburgi) were constituted between 1974 and 2000.

The Malaprabha project. Pic courtesy: Water Resources Department, Government of Karnataka

The Command Area Development and Water Management (CADWM) programme is being implemented as a state sector scheme since 2008-09. The scope of the programme was enhanced by the Government of India (in July 2010 and December 2013) by including new components based on evaluation and impact assessments, although the basic objective remained the same.

A performance review of such development was carried out by the CAG of India by accessing records pertaining to four CADAs – namely Belgavi, Munirabad, Mysuru and Shivamogga – and a review of records of the Directorate of CADAs and Secretary, Water Resources Department over the period 2009-10 to 2013-14.

Findings

The review activities covering the period 2009-14 showed that a gap of 4.10 lakh hectares existed between irrigation potential created and utilised, as of March 2014, due to non-construction of field irrigation channels. At the end of March 2009, this gap stood at 5.65 lakh hectares.

Audit scrutiny revealed that field irrigation channels were constructed only in an area of 2.25 lakh hectares against a cumulative target of 7.48 lakh hectares for the period 2009-14 (that is, roughly 30 percent of the target). A close examination of records also suggested that in 16 projects, 2.71 lakh hectares land did not receive any irrigation benefits, despite field irrigation channels being in place. This led to an estimated crop loss worth Rs 915.45 crores per annum.

Audit scrutiny revealed that none of the test checked CADAs had prepared a comprehensive scheme or long-term perspective plan as prescribed in the Act, although annual plans had been drawn. This was clearly in violation of what was envisaged under section 12 of the Command Area Development Act, 1980: that any scheme so prepared shall specify the phases in which the area is proposed to be covered, the phasing of the scheme, a sketch plan of the area proposed, the survey numbers to be covered, works to be executed etc.

Further during the scrutiny of the annual plans, CAG auditors observed that the annual action plan/integrated plans were prepared in a routine manner, without considering the extent of the survey completed, which resulted in unrealistic targets being fixed for OFD works. Data shown in progress reports furnished by the Secretary, Water Resources Department exposed significant shortfalls in terms of achieving physical targets in respect of all activities except training.

The highest shortfalls were noted under Correction of System Deficiency (COSD) (93 percent), Survey (77 percent), Land Reclamation (75 percent) and On-Farm Development (70 percent).

The Tungabhadra Project. Pic courtesy: Water Resources Department, Government of Karnataka

Responses

It is also interesting to see how these defaulting CADAs responded to the audit findings. In a reply dated June 2014, CADA Munirabad sought to argue that “consolidated proposals for survey and planning had been taken up and were in its final stage”. In contrast to this, CADA Mysuru stated in a reply dated July 2014 that “preparation of comprehensive master plan for the earlier stages of the project does not serve the purpose”.

In two separate replies dated July and October 2014, CADA Shivamogga and CADA Belgavi accepted that the comprehensive surveys had not been conducted.

However, at an exit conference where CAG auditors presented the draft performance review report, the additional chief secretary, Water Resources Department sought to blame the huge shortage of manpower for difficulties faced in implementation of CAD activities.

Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM)

The performance audit of CAD also noticed that the objective of Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) – to ensure farmers’ participation in irrigation management and maintenance of command area – remained unfulfilled, as water management was not being carried out by the water users’ cooperative societies.

This concept had emerged to provide a safeguard against Command Area Development activities being implemented in a top-down manner characterised by centralised decision making and was made mandatory from June 2000 onwards. With effect from June 2000, the formation of the following four-tier structure was mandated:

  • Water Users Cooperatives Society – at sluice point
  • Water Users Distributary Level Federation – at Distributary level
  • Water Users Project Level Federation – at Project level, and
  • Water Users Apex level Federation – at state level

Audit scrutiny revealed that out of 76 projects under CADA, PIM is being implemented only in 33 major and medium irrigation projects. The reasons for not implementing PIM in the other 43 projects were not furnished to CAG auditors.

The details of Water Users Cooperatives (WUCs) targeted, the number of WUCs actually formed, the MoUs executed and water management handed over as on March 2014 revealed significant shortfall, too. Against a total command area of 22.50 lakh hectares under these 33 projects, the target had been to extend irrigation to 16.51 lakh hectares only, of which only 6.81 lakh hectares got eventually handed over to the 2831 WUCs that were formed.

Further scrutiny revealed the following details:

  1. Out of 2831 WUCs formed, 981 (i.e. 34 percent) were non-functional
  2. MoUs were yet to be concluded with 778 WUCs which were formed
  3. Water management was not handed over to 76 WUCs in CADA, Shivamogga, though MoUs were concluded

During the audit process there also emerged contradictory responses to audit findings on the issue of failure to hand over water management to the WUCs. When auditors pointed out the instances, the administrators of three CADAs – namely Mysuru, Kalburgi and Munirabad – in a reply dated July 2014 accepted the finding.

However, in a subsequent reply dated September 2014, the Secretary of Water Resources Department sought to argue that 3.37 lakh hectares under these three CADAs had been handed over to WUCs. But after taking these replies on record, the performance review observes that “No records relating to actual handing over of water management to WUCs, was made available to audit”.

When history keeps repeating itself

The above also shows a brazen disregard for performance audits of irrigation projects by the Water Resources Department, especially since the slow progress in formation of WUCs and handing over of water management had been indicated earlier in an audit report for 2011.

Audit paragraph 2.4.7.4 in the CAG audit report on Karnataka for the year ending March 31, 2011 was taken up for discussion by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the 14th state assembly. PAC in its third report tabled in July 2014 had taken cognizance of this significant shortfall and recommended that “formation of WUCs be made mandatory for better water management”. Yet, all the audit findings and PAC recommendations seem to have been brushed under the carpet with impunity.

Furthermore, an audit report for the year ending 31 March 2001 – pertaining to a performance audit by the CAG of six major and medium irrigation projects that received financial assistance from NABARD in 1995-96 – brought out that the Departmental Officers and the Government had failed to ensure proper initial investigation, planning, effective execution, proper co-ordination and financial discipline in the execution of the NABARD-assisted irrigation projects.

This led to large scale irregularities, huge wasteful expenditure on works and purchases, avoidable extra cost, unintended benefit to contractors and unwarranted delay in execution of works. Consequently, in spite of Rs. 537.54 crore being spent on six projects, no benefit flowed from these, except marginally from one project. The monitoring committees neither monitored timely completion of projects nor did anything to prevent wasteful expenditure.

So many years down the line, as we look at the CAG’s report on irrigation projects and command area development, one cannot but question what lessons Karnataka’s irrigation department has learnt in the last 15 years!

* Krishna Bhagya Jal Nigam Ltd (KBJNL), Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Ltd (KNNL) and Cauvery Neeravari Nigam Ltd (CNNL)

REFERENCES

  1. CAG Audit Report, Karnakata, Report 8 of 2014, Chapter 2
  2. CAG Audit Report, Karnataka, Report 9 of 2014, Chapter 2