Water management outpourings

ONE of the major criticisms against large surface irrigation projects was the way the water was mismanaged, leading to conflict between head- and tail-end users, waterlogging and soil salinity.

In most cases in India, farmers either do not pay a water tariff or pay only a token amount. Further, there is a gross underutilisation of the irrigation potential. What we need is to increase the efficiency of the already-established irrigation potential, and to harness water in a manner which will be sustainable and will not damage the fragile agricultural lands.

More important than the mere construction of a physical structure is the rationale of utilising water in a just and fair manner, whereby the benefits reach as many people as possible. How one achieves this goal is exactly what the book is all about. The authors have put together the different ways in which one could organise farmers so that they manage their water resources efficiently.

There are many traditional as well as modern examples of people managing their own irrigation systems. The authors have rightly pointed out that it is essential that one recognizes the knowledge of the people in managing their own resources. They also suggest various methods by which this can be supported by the government and other development agencies. The authors do not go overboard in glorifying these traditional systems, but look at them from a practical point of view.

Along with the theoretical issues, the book goes into a rigorous explanation of how one can form and operationalise a farmers' organisation to manage irrigation systems. Over the past few years, the concept of Farmer Managed Irrigation Systems (FMIS) has come into practice. The basic concept of the FMIS is to get the farmers more involved in the management of irrigation systems, particularly in operations and maintenance, and in ensuring equitable water distribution and collection of water tariff. This is done by forming a water users' association or society.

One of the drawbacks of the book is that it relies heavily on secondary resource material. There are problems in the interpretations that the authors have drawn. For instance, they say that the pani panchayat experiment of Maharashtra lost momentum even before it could get accepted as a broad state programme. The interpretation is not accurate; in fact, Maharashtra is one of the best examples in the country of people managing their irrigation systems. The concept of pani panchayat is still alive and vibrant.

Moreover, Maharashtra's pathbreaking, comprehensive watershed development programme was based on and inspired by the pani panchayat experiment. Its philosophy has also been incorporated by many NGOs working in the field of water management across the country.

Barring the drawback of using secondary sources, the book is a well-researched document. It tries to bridge the gap between technical and social scientists involved in the field of water development.

---Ganesh Pangare is a professor of environment studies at the Centre for Development Studies and Activities, Pune.