Irrigation during Medieval India

In medieval India, rapid advances took place in the construction of inundation canals. Water was blocked by constructing bunds across steams. This raised the water level and canals were constructed to take the water to the fields. Ghiyasuddin Tughluq (1220-1250) is credited to be the first ruler who encouraged digging canals. However, it is Firoz Tughluq (1351-86) who, inspired from central Asian experience, is considered to be the greatest canal builder before the nineteenth century. As agricultural development was the pillar of the economy, irrigation systems were paid special attention.

Irrigation under British Rule

Irrigation development during British rule began with the renovation, improvement and extension of existing works. The Government also ventured into new projects, like the Upper Ganga Canal, the Upper Bari Doab Canal and Krishna and Godavari Delta Systems, which were all river diversion works of considerable size. The period from 1836 to 1866 marked the development and completion of these four major works. In 1867, the Government adopted the practice of taking up works, which promised a minimum net return. Thereafter, a number of projects were taken up. These included major canal works like the Sirhind, the Lower Ganga, the Agra and the Mutha Canals, and the Periyar Dam and canals.

The recurrence of drought and famines during the second half of the nineteenth century necessitated the development of irrigation to give protection against the failure of crops and to reduce large scale expenditure on famine relief. Significant protective works constructed during the period were the Betwa Canal, the Nira Left Bank Canal, the Gokak Canal, the Khaswad Tank and the Rushikulya Canal. Between the two types of works, namely productive and protective. the former received greater attention. The gross area irrigated in India under British rule by public works at the close of the nineteenth century was about 7.5 m.ha. Of this, 4.5 m.ha. came from minor works, like tanks, inundation canals etc. The area irrigated by protective works was only a little more than 0.12 m.ha.

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