There are three main means of irrigation in India: (a) wells and tube wells, (b) canals, and (c) tanks.
Irrigation by wells is an old practice in India. It has greatly increased with the use of diesel and electric pumping sets. Irrigated area by wells and tube wells in 1950-51 was only 59 lakh hectares which has increased to 30 million hectares in 1997-98. During this period total irrigated area has increased from 30 percent to 57 percent.
There are large reserves of underground water in the alluvial plains of north India. Digging and constructing wells and tube wells is easy and cost of their construction is also comparatively less. Therefore irrigation by wells and tube wells is popular. On the other hand, Gujarat, Goa, Rajasthan and Maharashtra are such states where only about 60 percent irrigation is carried on by wells and tube wells.
Canals were the main means of irrigation upto 1960. Canals contributed about 40 percent in the total irrigated area of the country. In 1996-97 it came down to about 31 percent. About 1.74 crore hectare area was irrigated by canals in 1996-97. Half of this area (52.5 percent) is limited to the states of north-India.
Haryana, Orissa, Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab are worth mentioning for canal irrigation. Jammu-Kashmir, Mizoram, Assam and Tripura are such states which are greatly depend upon canal irrigation because there is lack of other means of irrigation in these states. Mizoram which has the least irrigated area completely dependent upon canals for irrigation.
The contributions of tanks in irrigation has reduced. About 6 percent of the irrigated area is irrigated by tanks. Irrigation by tanks is popular in peninsular plateau area.
Tamil Nadu is the leading state in the irrigation by tanks. About 22 percent area is irrigated by tanks here. In the states of Orissa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and West Bengal tanks are used for irrigation.