How many wells and tubewells in India? No one really knows!

13 Jul

With all the brouhaha about unsustainable groundwater use in India, one would have expected that there are robust estimates of number of wells and tubewells. But, sadly, there aren’t!  While working on a project on energy-irrigation nexus, I started looking at the data on wells and tubewells more closely than I had ever done before. In doing so, I realized that there were vast discrepancies in the numbers depending on the source of data. I was intrigued. Stuti Rawat – a colleague of mine and I decided to investigate further. We looked at four sources of government data: Minor Irrigation (MI) Census, Agricultural Census, Input Survey and State Electricity Boards (SEB). We compared these numbers for four time periods (mid 1980s, 1990s, early 2000 and mid 2000) making sure that the enumeration year of the sources compared did not differ by more than a year.

Our findings took us by surprise. We found that numbers of wells, tubewells, and electric and diesel pumps varied between the sources and varied widely. While a ten to twenty percent difference in figures enumerated may be due to definitional differences and time lags, but differences that are as much as 40% or more, raise questions about the veracity of the data. For example, while Input Survey put the number of diesel pumps at 13.1 million in 2006-07, Agricultural Census showed only 4.5 million diesel pumps 2005-06 – almost a 3 times difference! Similarly, in 2000-01, Agricultural Census and Minor Irrigation Census had reported 6.3 million and 4.2 million diesel pumps respectively– a difference 50%. Estimates of electric pumps are no better. In 2000-01, Input Survey reported some 18 million electric pumps, while Agricultural Census and Minor Irrigation Census reported only 10 million electric pumps. Data from the SEBs were even more divergent and almost always 30-50% higher than estimates from other sources with the exception of few states. We found that wide divergence in data is the norm and convergence is the exception.

Since much of this data collection takes place at the state level, inconsistency in data is indicative of poor data collection machinery in that state. We tried to rank states in terms of data consistency and found that there are three states which were doing better than the rest. Any guesses? Well, these are Gujarat (but then of course!), Punjab and Haryana. And surprise, surprise, Bihar did so much better on the data consistency front in the 1980s and since then, it has deteriorated. And data in some states has always been inconsistent. West Bengal is pretty much on top of that list (why I am not surprised?), so are Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan.

I think that such glaring data inconsistency in minor irrigation is symptomatic of overall decline in standards of statistical database in India – something that worries me deeply and ought to worry our policy makers even more.

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3 Responses to “How many wells and tubewells in India? No one really knows!”

  1. C Biradar July 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    I thought I was only scratching my head…

  2. ChuiyerChu July 24, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    And therefore a lot of the research done based on this data! LOL!

  3. Stuti July 27, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

    The only thing possibly worse than widely varying data, would be an absence of it. Unfortunately there are states like that as well. Since 2000, data from the Agricultural Census and Input Survey draws a blank against Bihar.

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