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Irrigation System in the Context of PIM in India

Dr. Ramu & Dr. P. Jayashree

No living being, including plants can survive without water. Yet, many that have grown up in cities tend to take water for granted. Water is an elixir of life on earth. It is vital for the existence of all life forms and for all activities of human beings. Water resources have been the most exploited natural system since man strode the earth as colossus from the dark ages. It is supplied for purposes of drinking, irrigation and industrial uses. One critical problem confronting mankind today is how to manage the intensifying competition for water between expanding urban centres, traditional agricultural activities and in stream water uses dictated by environmental concerns.

In the agricultural sector, the prospects of increasing the gross cultivated area are limited by the dwindling number of economically attractive sites for large scale attractive sites for large scale irrigation and drainage projects. Over the last century, the global population has tripled, and water consumption has increased threefold (UNESCO, 2005). Water use in India is no exception to this general trend. The main cause of the increase are growing population and rising food demand. In an agrarian economy like India, the importance of water for agricultural productivity hardly needs any emphasis. India faces the dauting task of increasing its food production by over 50 per cent in the next two decades, and reaching towards the goal of sustainable agriculture requires a crucial role of water (Kumar 1998).

The concept of Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) is closely linked to the concept of Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT). Indeed, IMT is a subset of PIM. IMT can be defined as the transfer of responsibility and authority for irrigation system management from government agencies to water users associations, or other private sector entities. This is a broad and rather vague definition. IMT may include transfer of decision-making authority (or governance). It may include transfer of ownership of scheme infrastructure (which is normally considered privatisation). It may include transfer of water rights from government to water users associations. Or it may only include turning over to water users a part of the management responsibilities, such as water delivery, canal maintenance and fixing the water fees, while final approval of operation and maintenance (O & M) plans and budgets are subject to government approval (FAO, 1999).

PIM may include the reordering of control over (claims to) water, the redefinition of boundaries and domains of governance and the construction of new entities (users, WUAs, etc.). There is however a large variety in the number of functions that can be transferred, the degree of transfer of the different functions, and the organisational setup aimed at after transfer. This is due to the fact that participation in irrigation management by water users can take a wide variety of forms. Farmers can be involved in various system management functions including planning, design, operation, maintenance, rehabilitation, resource mobilization, and conflict resolution. Moreover, they can be involved in these functions at various system levels; from the field channel to the entire system.

Almost all irrigation systems show some involvement of water users in the system management. When people speak of introducing PIM, they are usually referring to a change in the level, mode, or intensity of user participation that would increase farmer responsibility and authority in management processes (Svendsen et al., 2000).

Since 1985 Ministry of Water Resources has been inspiring farmers participation in water distribution and management of tertiary system in the projects covered under the Centrally Sponsored Command Area Development Programme.

Recognising the need to provide legal backup to PIM in the country, Ministry of Water Resources commissioned an NGO, 'Society for Peoples' Participation in Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM); Pune to suggest suitable amendments in the existing irrigation acts which could be recommended to States for incorporation in their State Irrigation Acts.

SOPPECOM has been in the forefront of work relating to PIM and has successfully pioneered many action research programmes on formation of WUAs. The suggestions of SOPPECOM were circulated to States during June 1998. Conferences at National, State and Project levels have been organized for creating awareness on Participatory Irrigation Management amongst farmers and officials. Ministry of Water Resources has been organising National level training programmes on PIM in various parts of the country for CAD functionaries. In addition, matching grant is also being provided to States for organizing State and project level training programmes for farmers and field functionaries.

In this paper, the aim is primarily to explore the irrigation and drainage system in the context of participatory irrigation management (PIM) in India with trends in irrigation and drainage.

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