Irrigation and its Types - UPSC Notes

Irrigation and its Types – UPSC Notes – Indian Geography

Water is a critical input for successful agriculture. It may be available to crops naturally through rainfall, or it may be artificially supplied through human efforts. Irrigation is the process of supplying water to crops through artificial means such as canals, wells, tube-wells, tanks, etc., sourced from rivers, ponds, or underground water. In this article, we will discuss Different Types of Irrigation.

Irrigation & Irrigation System

  • Irrigation: Artificially applying water to crops to meet their water requirements and provide nutrients.
  • Usage: Typically in areas with irregular rainfall, dry periods, or predicted drought.
  • Types of Systems: Various systems supply water uniformly to the entire field.
  • Water Sources: Groundwater from springs or wells, surface water from rivers, lakes, reservoirs, treated wastewater, or desalinated water.
  • Benefits: Provides moisture for growth, development, germination, and other functions.
  • Factors Affecting Irrigation: Frequency, rate, amount, and timing vary for different crops, soil types, and seasons.
  • Seasonal Differences: Summer crops need more water compared to winter crops.
  • Protecting Water Sources: Farmers must safeguard water sources to reduce contamination risks.
  • Groundwater Concerns: Avoiding over-pumping to maintain aquifer recharge rates.
  • Importance: Basic infrastructure and necessary input for agricultural production.
  • Goal: Maintain agricultural output with minimal water usage, and landscape maintenance.
  • Related Study: Often studied alongside drainage, which removes surface and subsurface water.

Different Types of Irrigation

Well and Tube Well Irrigation

  • Widely Used System: Most prevalent irrigation system in India.
  • Historical Context: First tube well dug in 1930 in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Significance: Over 50 lakh tube wells operational in India, contributing to the success of the Green Revolution.
  • Regional Distribution: Uttar Pradesh leads in well irrigation, followed by Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Bihar.
  • Varieties: Shallow wells, deep wells, tube wells, artesian wells, etc.
  • Availability: Water from shallow wells may be limited during dry months; deep wells provide year-round water.

Canal Irrigation

  • Importance: Accounts for about 24% of total irrigation in India.
  • Suitable Areas: Effective in low-level relief, deep fertile soil, and perennial river areas, mainly in northern plains.
  • Types: Inundation canals and perennial canals.
  • Method: Gravity transport of water from river, reservoir, or tank to farmlands via canals.
  • Design: Canals shaped trapezoidally, constructed with reinforced concrete, brick masonry, or stone masonry.
  • Functionality: Designed with adequate width and depth for proper water distribution to crop fields.

Tank Irrigation

  • Storage System: Tanks serve as storage, created by bunds across streams.
  • Rainwater Harvesting: Reservoirs collect rainwater for irrigation.
  • Variety in Construction: Some tanks partially dugouts and partially bunds.
  • Size and Ownership: Vary in size, often constructed by individual or group of farmers.
  • Regional Dominance: Popular in the peninsular plateau region, especially Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
  • Other Regions: Significant in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Kerala, Bundelkhand region, Rajasthan, and Gujarat.

Micro Irrigation

  • Definition: Prudent irrigation technology for higher cropping and irrigation intensity through focused water application.
  • Characteristics: Small water volume, low pressure, and frequency.
  • Benefits: Boosts yields while reducing water, fertilizer, and labor requirements.
  • System Components: Large network of pipes operating at low pressure.
  • Variety of Systems: Drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, micro-sprinkler, porous pipe system, rain gun.

Drip Irrigation

  • Method: Also known as ‘trickle irrigation,’ delivers water directly to plant root zones via drippers or emitters.
  • Effectiveness: Suitable for various crops, including vegetables, orchard crops, flowers, and plantations.
  • Application: Tree crops dominate drip irrigation in India, followed by vine crops, vegetables, field crops, flowers, and others.
  • Water Application: Low rate ranging from 2 to 20 liters per hour, maintaining optimal soil moisture.
  • Efficiency: Most efficient method applicable to a wide range of crops.

Sprinkler Irrigation

  • Technique: Water is sprinkled into the air and allowed to fall like rain, created by small orifices or nozzles.
  • Suitability: Majority of row, field, and tree crops; can be applied above or below crop canopy.
  • Considerations: Inappropriate for windy sites; works best in sandy soil.
  • Versatility: Suitable for lawns, gardens, and agricultural fields; except for paddy and jute, applicable to almost all crops.

Furrow Irrigation

  • Method: Involves digging trenches or furrows between crop rows, directing water down using gravity.
  • Applicability: Ideal for broad-acre row crops like cotton, corn, sugar cane, and horticultural crops like citrus fruits and tomatoes.
  • Characteristics: Inexpensive, low-tech, appealing in developing countries or areas without mechanized irrigation.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Despite not being the newest method, remains a preferred choice for millions of farmers.

Surge Irrigation

  • Definition: Intermittent application of water to enhance distribution uniformity along a furrow.
  • Principle: Dry soil absorbs water faster than wet soil; wet soil seals due to consolidation of soil particles.
  • Advantages: Faster advancement with less deep percolation and improved application uniformity.

Sub Irrigation or Seepage Irrigation

  • Definition: Water delivery method below the root zone, controlling water level.
  • Effectiveness: Efficient water conservation, low labor requirements post-installation.
  • Process: Water table manipulation in agricultural fields, without flooding to ground level.
  • Arid/Semi-arid Areas: Not commonly used due to seed germination requirements at surface level.
  • Ideal Conditions: High drainage requirement areas suitable for sub-irrigation.
  • Dual Purpose: Drainage pipes and tiles can serve for both excess water removal and irrigation as needed.

Problems Associated with Irrigation

  • Expensive Micro Irrigation: Primarily accessible to wealthy farmers, posing affordability challenges for poorer farmers.
  • Addressing Affordability: Initiatives by organizations like International Development Enterprises (IDE) to develop low-cost systems and raise awareness among poorer farmers.
  • Project Completion Delay: Proliferation of new projects leads to delays in completion, with issues in construction and land shaping.
  • Inter-state Water Disputes: Inter-state rivalry over water supply distribution due to differing priorities and perspectives.
  • Regional Disparities: Significant variation in irrigation development across regions, with disparities highlighted between Northern and North Eastern regions.
  • Water Logging and Salinity: Introduction of irrigation leading to water logging and salinity issues in certain states.
  • Increasing Irrigation Cost: Rising costs observed from the first to tenth five-year plans.
  • Water Table Decline: Steady decline in water table, particularly in western dry regions, due to over-exploitation and insufficient recharge.
  • Energy Crisis: Power outages and interruptions impacting rural and urban areas can be mitigated by integrating drip irrigation with solar panel systems for off-grid farmers.

Irrigation Schemes in India

Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY)

  • Launch: Initiated in 2015 with the slogan “Har Khet Ko Paani.”
  • Objective: Provide end-to-end solutions in the irrigation supply chain.
  • Focus Areas: Assured and protective irrigation through rainwater harvesting at micro-level (Jal Sanchay and Jal Sinchan).
  • “Per Drop More Crop”: Promotes micro-irrigation systems for precision farming, delivering water to crops’ root zones.
  • Micro Irrigation Fund: Established in collaboration with NABARD to expand micro-irrigation coverage.

Rainfed Area Development Programme (RADP)

  • Objective: Increase agricultural productivity sustainably in rain-fed areas through farming system-based approaches.

Mission Kakatiya

  • Initiative: Telangana government’s flagship programme to restore minor irrigation sources like ponds and tanks.
  • Goals: Improve minor irrigation infrastructure, strengthen community-based irrigation management, and restore water sources effectively.
  • Implementation: Gram Sabhas held for discussions, farmer cooperation encouraged, and district-level coordination committees formed.

Progress of Irrigation Under Five Year Plans

  • Historical Comparison: At independence, India had 19% of agricultural land under irrigation, lower than Pakistan, Israel, Japan, and Egypt.
  • Emphasis on Expansion: Five-year plans prioritized expanding irrigation facilities nationwide.
  • Achievements: By 1997-98, 86.6 million hectares irrigated, covering 46.5% of cultivable area.
  • State-wise Coverage: Punjab leads with 73% coverage, followed by Haryana and Rajasthan at 50% each.
  • Multi-purpose River Projects: Numerous projects completed to utilize river water for irrigation.
  • Development of Minor Irrigation: Focus on projects like wells, tanks, tube wells, pump sets to extend facilities to small farmers.
  • Command Area Development Programme: Launched in 1974-75 to maximize irrigation potential and increase agricultural production.
  • Targets and Realization: Ninth Plan target: 106.4 million hectares, realization: 94.7 million hectares.
  • Tenth Plan Progress: Irrigation potential increased to 102.8 million hectares, with 87.2 million hectares utilized.
  • Growth Rate Trends: Creation of additional potential slowed from 3% to 1.25-1.8% per year; utilization growth at 1-1.5% per year.

Environmental Effects of Irrigation

Waterlogging and Salinization

  • Salinization: Leading cause of land loss in irrigated areas, common negative effect of irrigation.
  • Surface Irrigation: Often associated with waterlogging and soil salinization.
  • Causes: Poor drainage, over-irrigation, seepage from canals and ditches.
  • Consequences: Concentration of salts in plant rooting zones, leading to reduced productivity.

Water-borne and Aquatic Diseases

  • Association with Irrigation: Irrigation linked to water-borne diseases like malaria due to vector proliferation.
  • Other Health Risks: Increased agrochemical use, water quality deterioration, population pressure.

Dam and Reservoir Environmental Impact

  • Hydrological and Limnological Changes: Damming rivers alters flow timing, water quality, aquatic biota, and sedimentation.
  • Environmental Impacts: Dust, erosion, borrow, and disposal issues; water impoundment and reservoir formation.

Socioeconomic Effects of Irrigation Schemes

  • Displacement Issues: Large dam construction necessitates resettlement, disrupting communities.
  • Challenges: Inadequate compensation leading to social unrest, breakdown in community infrastructure, and potential malnutrition.


  • Key Role in Economy: Agriculture is pivotal to the Indian economy, with irrigation driving its development.
  • Increased Reliance: Uncertainty of rainfall has led to heightened dependence on irrigation.
  • Benefits: Facilitates crop growth, landscape preservation, and soil revegetation in dry regions and during low rainfall periods.
  • Multi-purpose Functionality: Beyond crop growth, irrigation offers frost protection, weed suppression in grain fields, and prevention of soil consolidation.

FAQs on Irrigation

Question: What is irrigation?

Answer: Irrigation is the process of artificially supplying water to agricultural land to supplement natural rainfall. It helps ensure consistent moisture levels required for crop growth, especially in regions with irregular rainfall patterns.

Question: What is canal irrigation in India?

Answer: Canal irrigation in India involves the distribution of water from rivers or reservoirs through an extensive network of canals to agricultural fields. These canals deliver water to farmlands for irrigation purposes, significantly contributing to agricultural productivity in the country.

Question: What is Micro irrigation?

Answer: Micro irrigation, also known as drip or trickle irrigation, is a method of delivering water directly to the root zone of plants in controlled amounts. This system uses pipes, tubing, and emitters to deliver water precisely, minimizing water wastage and maximizing crop yields. It is particularly beneficial in areas with water scarcity or where water resources need to be conserved.

UPSC PYQ Prelims

Question: Consider the following statements: (UPSC 2015)

  1. The Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme was launched during 1996–97 to provide loan assistance to poor farmers.
  2. The Command Area Development Programme was launched in 1974–75 for the development of water use efficiency.

Which of the statements given above is/are true?

  • (a) 1 only
  • (b) 2 only
  • (c) Both 1 and 2
  • (d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: (b)

Question: With reference to micro-irrigation, which of the following statements is/are correct? (UPSC 2011)

  1. Fertilizer/nutrient loss can be reduced.
  2. It is the only means of irrigation in dryland farming.
  3. In some areas of farming, the receding of the groundwater table can be checked.

Select the correct answer using the codes given below:

  • (a) 1 only
  • (b) 2 and 3 only
  • (c) 1 and 3 only
  • (d) 1, 2 and 3

Answer: (c)

Question: Which of the following is/are the advantage/advantages of practicing drip irrigation? (UPSC 2016)

  1. Reduction in weed
  2. Reduction in soil salinity
  3. Reduction in soil erosion

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

  • (a) 1 and 2 only
  • (b) 3 only
  • (c) 1 and 3 only
  • (d) None of the above is an advantage of practicing drip irrigation

Answer: (c)

Question: With reference to the economic history of medieval India, the term ‘Araghatta’ refers to: (UPSC 2016)

  • (a) Bonded labour
  • (b) Land grants made to military officers
  • (c) Waterwheel used in the irrigation of land
  • (d) Wasteland converted to cultivated land

Answer: (c)

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