The issue: Why this study?
Increasing population and existing climate change scenario is posing a major challenge to the global fresh water resource. This challenge is more visible in agriculture sector, especially of water stressed countries, as it is often the biggest user of fresh water supplies. India is a classic case of this unfolding scenario. India is already categorised as water stressed country in terms of per capita freshwater availability (1544 cubic meter in 2011). Out of the 4 per cent share of global freshwater availability in India, almost 78 cent share of water is consumed by the agriculture sector. UN Population projections (revised) of 2017 show that India will be most populous country on this planet surpassing China by 2024. Most of the studies by OECD, IMF, etc also show that India is likely to register a population growth of about 7 to 8 percent for the coming decade or so. By 2030, India is also likely to have 600 million people living in urban areas, up from current level of about 380 million. What all this implies is that the pressure on water, both for producing more food, feed and fibre as well as for rising urbanization and industrial activity, will be tremendous. In a recent OECD study on global water risk hotspots, India’s north-western region has already been identified as one among the three top most water risk hotspots in agricultural production, the others being north eastern China and south western USA. Against this backdrop, ensuring optimum water productivity (output per unit of water used/applied for irrigation by crop) becomes essential to ensure sustainable growth in agriculture. It may be worth noting that water is likely to be a more binding constraint to Indian agriculture than even land, and therefore it is time to change the mind-set from raising agricultural productivity per unit of land to per unit of water. This study is precisely an attempt in that direction. In addition to the sustainability issue, inequity in irrigation water use among crops across the country has left a little more than half of Indian agriculture still dependent on rainfall. Paddy in Punjab-Haryana belt and sugarcane in subtropical belt comprising of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are classic examples highlighting this situation. The water guzzler paddy and sugarcane crop using more than 60 per cent of irrigation water available in the country are largely being cultivated in the most water scarce regions of the country restricting irrigation water availability for other major crops of the region. This situation has emerged over years primarily due to skewed incentive structures for rice and sugarcane in these regions. These incentives manifest in highly subsidized pricing of water, power, fertilizers on one hand, and assured markets for their outputs through procurement of rice in Punjab-Haryana belt, and of sugarcane by sugar factories at government determined prices (FRP or SAP). The relatively water abundant states in eastern region (eastern UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, and even Odisha), lag behind in production of these crops as they have not been able to erect suitable procurement structures for rice or attract sugar mills in their areas. This has led to a major misalignment in cropping patterns from the point of view of water availability. The hot-spots being Punjab-Haryana belt for rice and Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh
and Tamil Nadu for sugarcane.

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