Capacities of the WUA Members
The WUAs are expected to have organizational, management, financial and social capacities to successfully manage the irrigation system. The WUAs have to function democratically and be sensitive to the needs of the weaker members.
The approach so far has been to entrust the function of building capacities to the Irrigation Department. However, the officials of the Department themselves lack the skills they are expected to transfer to the members of the WUAs. Hence in Madhya Pradesh, although the willingness was there, the ability was lacking and no progress could be made on this.
The strategy followed in the project supported by India Canada Environment Facility is to provide continuous capacity building support through capable and experienced non government organizations (NGOs). This is to be supplemented by training on specialized aspects, undertaken by experienced institutions or individuals.
The NGOs would train and the members of the WUAs and the Irrigation Department staff would learn, by doing. This would be followed by the NGOs supervising and providing corrective measures. Lastly, the NGOs would gradually withdraw and the WUAs and the Irrigation Department would take over.
With back - stopping services provided by the NGOs, the WUAs would be persuaded to meet regularly. All information especially those relating to financial matters and physical repairs progress, would be shared publicity and regularly. Once the system is established, it will be difficult to discontinue it.
Participation in the functioning of the WUAs will be broad based by assigning responsibilities to groups of people at the minor level and to individuals within that group. In exposure visits, in training, in representations, in short, in every activity, it will be ensured that sincere and capable persons are involved and not necessarily the office bearers.
All major decisions will be taken by general bodies and through open participation. For example, the question of where repairs would be undertaken and how would be decided through a ''walk through' of the system and an open discussion. The need to make an equitable distribution of water will be repeatedly emphasized.
It has been observed that farmers who can access the water appropriate as much as they can, beyond what is required by the crops, to insure against non availability at a later stage. To ensure that the farmers are ready to consider more judicious use is : (i) to announce the total availability of water for the season, at the beginning of the cropping season, (ii) ensure a cropping pattern in tune with the availability of water (iii) promote water conserving technologies that lead to higher production, and (iv) promote the use of low cost equipment that will assist the farmers to monitor soil moisture water.
The above interventions is a necessary condition that will release water that could be used to provide water to the tailenders and small farmers.
Another important requirement is to raise the cost of using water. Water charges need to be linked to the quantum used, rather than be levied on an acreage basis. If the WUAs are entrusted with the full responsibilities of maintaining and operation the system, they may find it viable to raise the water charges to at least the physical and managerial cost of providing it. Since passing the legislation in 1999, the government of Madhya Pradesh has raised the water rates by more than three times.
Till recently, the irrigation Department has strictly retained management in its hands. The mounting conflicts in distribution of water and the rapidly deteriorating condition of the system have been party responsible for the desire to hand over the management to the water users. It is partly governed by political expediency.
However, whatever the motivation, the trend towards transfer of management has started. To ensure that the transfer is real and not one of substituting the Irrigation Department officials by the bigger farmers, concerted efforts of the right kind has to e undertaken. There are challenges in this that will require a committed senior bureaucracy to overcome.