In India irrigation has always been the largest user of water. Irrigation projects mainly consists engineering (or hydraulic) structures which collect, convey, and deliver water to areas on which crops are grown.
Irrigation projects may range from a small farm unit to those serving extensive areas of millions of hectares. A small irrigation project may consist of a low diversion weir or an inexpensive pumping plant along with small ditches (channels) and some minor control structures. A large irrigation project includes a large storage reservoir, a huge dam, hundreds of kilometres of canals, branches and distributaries, control structures, and other works (Asawa, 2005).
3.2 Irrigation Projects Classification
Irrigation projects are classified in different ways, however, in Indian context it is usually classified as follows:
3.2.1 Based on Cultural Command Area (CCA)
The Major and Medium Irrigation (MMI) projects are further classified into two types based on irrigation method adopted.
3.2.2 Based on the Way of Water Application
The Irrigation schemes are classified into two types based on way of water application.
3.3 Some of the Major Irrigation Projects
Since independence, India has developed several major irrigation projects. Some of the major irrigation projects are listed in Table 3.1 and also shown in Fig. 3.1.
Table 3.1. Major irrigation projects of India
Year of completion
Bhakra Nangal Project
Punjab and Himachal Pradesh
Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan
Indira Gandhi Canal
Harike (Satlej and Beas)
Bihar and Nepal
Nagarjuna Sagar Project
Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh
Damodar valley project
Jharkhand, West Bengal
Kangsabati and Kumari river
Fig. 3.1. Major Irrigation Projects of India.
3.3.1 Major, Medium and Minor Irrigation Projects - Potential Created and Utilized
Demand for irrigation water in India is huge; however, the limits to storage and transfer of water restrict the potential for irrigation. The assessment of Ultimate Irrigation Potential (UIP) needs to be periodically reviewed to account for revision in scope, technological advancement, inter basin transfer of water, induced recharging of ground water, etc. The UIP of projects covered under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Program (AIBP) is of the order of 139.9 Mha. Potential Created (PC) & Potential Utilised (PU) up to end of IXth Plan are given in Table 3.2.
Table 3.2. Sector wise UIP, PC and PU Till end of IXth Plan (in Mha)
Minor Irrigation (MI)
3.3.2 Procedure for Setting up a MMI Project in India
The state planning to start a new irrigation project shall have to prepare a report based on “Guidelines for Submission, Appraisal and Clearance of Irrigation and Multipurpose Projects” brought out by the Central Water Commission (CWC). This report has to be sent to the project appraisal organization of the CWC for the clearance with a note certifying the following:
It may be noted that similar report has to be made even for multipurpose projects having irrigation as a component. Apart from the above techno-economic studies carried out by the state design organization, the project report should be examined by the state-level project appraisal/technical advisory committee comprising representatives of irrigation, agriculture, fisheries, forests, soil conservation, ground water, revenue and finance departments and state environmental management authority. The techno-economic feasibility report should also be supplemented with “Environmental Impact Assessment Report” and “Relief and Rehabilitation Plan” because of major impact of an irrigation project on environment.
The project proposal submitted to the CWC shall be circulated amongst the members of the advisory committee of the ministry of water resources for scrutiny. Once the project is found acceptable it shall be recommended for investment clearance to the planning commission and inclusion in the five year plan/annual plan.
3.3 Environmental Impact of Irrigation Projects
All water resource projects, whether for irrigation or for hydro-electric power or for flood control or for water supply, are constructed for the well-being of human beings and have definite impact on the surrounding ecosystems and environment. If the projects are properly planned and suitably designed, the adverse impacts can be minimized. Environmental evaluation or assessment is generally done at the planning and design stages of the project. There is a need to develop a complete checklist of the impacts and an environmental evaluation system to quantify the impacts of irrigation projects.
The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision makers consider the ensuing environmental impacts when deciding whether or not to proceed with a project. The International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) defines an environmental impact assessment (EIA) as "the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made." EIAs are unique in that they do not require adherence to a predetermined environmental outcome, but rather they require decision makers to account for environmental values in their decisions and to justify those decisions in light of detailed environmental studies and public comments on the potential environmental impacts of the proposal.