The rainfall over the country is primarily orographic, associated with tropical depressions originating in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The summer monsoon accounts for more than 85 per cent of the precipitation. The uncertainty of occurrence of rainfall marked by prolonged dry spells and fluctuations in seasonal and annual rainfall is a serious problem for the country. Large parts of Haryana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are not only in deficit in rainfall but also subject to large variations, resulting in frequent droughts and causing immense hardship to the population and enormous loss to the nation. The water availability even for drinking purposes becomes critical, particularly in the summer months as the rivers dry up and the ground water recedes. Regional variations in the rainfall lead to situations when some parts of the country do not have enough water even for raising a single crop. On the other hand excess rainfall occurring in some parts of the country create havoc due to floods.
Irrigation using river water and ground water has been the prime factor for raising the food grain production in our country from a mere 50 million tonnes in the 1950s to more than 200 million tonnes at present, leading us to attain self sufficiency in food. Irrigated area has increased from 22 million hectares to 95 million hectares during this period. The population of India, which is around 1000 million at present, is expected to increase to 1500 to 1800 million in the year 2050 and that would require about 450 million tonnes of food grains. For meeting this requirement, it would be necessary to increase irrigation potential to 160 million hectares for all crops by 2050. India's maximum irrigation potential that could be created through conventional sources has been assessed to be about 140 million hectares. For attaining a potential of 160 million hectares, other strategies shall have to be evolved.
Floods are a recurring feature, particularly in Brahmaputra and Ganga rivers, in which almost 60 per cent of the river flows of our country occur. Flood damages, which were Rs. 52 crores in 1953, have gone up to Rs. 5,846 crores in 1998 with annual average being Rs. 1,343 crores affecting the States of Assam, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh alongwith untold human sufferings. On the other hand, large areas in the States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu face recurring droughts. As much as 85 percentage of drought prone area falls in these States.
One of the most effective ways to increase the irrigation potential for increasing the food grain production, mitigate floods and droughts and reduce regional imbalance in the availability of water is the Inter Basin Water Transfer (IBWT) from the surplus rivers to deficit areas. Brahmaputra and Ganga particularly their northern tributaries, Mahanadi, Godavari and West Flowing Rivers originating from the Western Ghats are found to be surplus in water resources. If we can build storage reservoirs on these rivers and connect them to other parts of the country, regional imbalances could be reduced significantly and lot of benefits by way of additional irrigation, domestic and industrial water supply, hydropower generation, navigational facilities etc. would accrue.