Tamil Nadu's tank rehab scheme does not hold water

G Kurupasamy, a 37-year-old resident of Irunjirai village in Virudhnagar district of Tamil Nadu, looks forlorn. He wants water for his fields, but hasn't got any help from the government. Though the village tank, a traditional waterbody, was restored by March 2006 by the public works department (pwd), there's not even a drop of water in it. "Restoring the tank for the heck of it, as is done by the pwd, is of no use. Rather, they should get an irrigation channel to our village,' says Kurupasamy.

The Irunjirai tank was restored at a cost of about Rs 95 lakh. The work mainly involved standardising the bund (or, restoring the tank's boundary wall) and converting the earthen channels of sluices into concrete ones. "What's the point of spending so much on a tank in which water has not collected for the past 15 years. The main problem is that its catchment area has been encroached upon, and nothing has been done about it,' says Krishnan, another resident of the village that lies in Tiruchuli taluk.

Similar refrains of villagers' misery and mismanagement on the part of pwd can be heard in many other parts of Tamil Nadu. For instance, the Tiruchuli tank (which benefits three villages), restored more than 10 years ago, is today overgrown with Prosopis juliflora. Asked why maintenance was not given priority, A Palanisamy, assistant engineer, pwd, Madurai, says, "Our jurisdiction ends at the bund area of the tank; the water spread area (where water collects) is under the revenue department. It will have to wait till the girth of P juliflora is two inches (about five cm) to request the forest department to do an assessment. Only after the assessment would the revenue department take a decision about removing P juliflora.' How much time will all that take, is anybody's guess.

These are not the only flaws in the government approach to tank restoration on which crores of rupees have been spent. "Villagers