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Study favours farmers' role in irrigation management

By Manas Dasgupta

AHMEDABAD, APRIL 27. Canal irrigation system experts have found most of the existing projects in the country faulty in design and maintenance, leading to the deprivation of farmers, particularly in the tail-end. They have recommended a system managed by farmers' organisations to remedy the situation.

The Ahmedabad-based Development Support Centre, a voluntary organisation which surveyed some of the irrigation projects in Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu has recommended introduction of a volumetric system of supply of water to address the situation of farmers at the canal heads consuming more water than their share, depriving the middle-reach and tail-end farmers.

The study was supported by the Planning Commission; the Wageningen Agricultural University, the Netherlands; the Ford Foundation; the European Union; and the Aga Khan Development Network.

Releasing the report, the former Planning Commission vice-chairman, Y.K. Alagh, and the former Gujarat Minister for Narmada Affairs, Jaynarayan Vyas, said that if implemented properly, the Sardar Sarovar project on the Narmada river in the State would not cause any deprivation, but supply water to over 19 lakh hectares.

The report said that deprivation was not a marginal problem as was generally believed. According to the study 37 per cent of the tail-enders were deprived of irrigation water in the Dharoi project on the Sabarmati river in Gujarat, while the others deprived in the command area constituted 27 per cent. In the Mahi project covering two lakh hectares, the deprivation was about seven per cent.

In the Warabandhi irrigation system prevalent in Haryana and Punjab, about 70 per cent of the farmers did not get water as per their entitlement with variations ranging from 56 to 84 per cent. In Karnataka, the tail-end deprivation was 40 per cent in the Tungabhadra project.

In the Hirakud project in Orissa head-reach farmers could irrigate cent per cent of their land, but only 35 per cent villages in the middle-reach were irrigated; in the tail-end areas water reached only 18 per cent of the designated land.

The worst case study, it said, perhaps was the Parambikulam Aliyar project in Tamil Nadu. The command area was extended by 84 per cent in an attempt to supply water to a few backward villages. This resulted in a severe shortage of water that at the tail-end, both in the original and extended command area, that whatever available could be used only for re-charging drinking water wells.

The report said that while excessive use by the head-reach farmers was one of the major causes of deprivation at the tail-end, faulty designing, poor construction and later maintenance and improper planning and implementation had also contributed to the problem.

It was found that more than 80 per cent of the budget for the irrigation schemes went towards staff salary leaving very little for maintenance of the projects. Strongly recommending "participatory irrigation management'' right from the designing level, it suggested that the farmers' organisations be authorised to fix water charges at a rate higher than the Government rate and retain the entire additional amount for maintenance.

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