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Some Issues in Participatory Irrigation Management

This article shortlists the conditions for success of participatory irrigation management along with an analysis of the impediments in its path. It warns that all countries should be cautious of the financial allurements of funding agencies because PIM seems to suffer from a number of infirmities that cannot be easily resolved.

Some Issues in Participatory Irrigation Management

Niranjan Pant

suffer from a number of infirmities that cannot be overridden.

Evolution of PIM

During the last three decades, the concept of PIM1 in India has passed through four

This article shortlists the conditions for success of participatory irrigation management along with an analysis of the impediments in its path. It warns that all countries should be cautious of the financial allurements of funding agencies because PIM seems to suffer from a number of infirmities that cannot be easily resolved.

A shorter version of this article was earlier accepted for presentation at the 10th International PIM seminar in Tehran, May 2-5, 2007.

Niranjan Pant ( is at the Centre for Development Studies, Lucknow.

arge canal systems in India contain nearly 40 per cent of the country’s total irrigation potential of 94 million ha. The staggering rise in the cost of creation of irrigation potential can be gauged by the fact that in comparative nominal terms, the public sector outlay has risen from an average of Rs 90 crore per annum during the First Plan to over Rs 65,000 crore in the Eighth Plan [Vaidyanathan 1999: 56-58]. Despite the overwhelming increase in the outlay all these years, the management of canals has remained highly inefficient, leading to an ever-increasing gap between the created potential and its utilisation. The main reason behind the lack of utilisation of irrigation potential is the non/ill-maintenance of irrigation systems, particularly the micro systems at the lower levels and those at the farm level.

Faced on the one hand, by the near collapse of such irrigation systems, and on the other, by non-availability of funds leading to utter financial crunch, the panacea is once again being found in participatory irrigation management (PIM). International funding agencies like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc, are currently going out of their way and offering funds with the conditionality of participatory irrigation management/irrigation management transfer (PIM/IMT).

This article shortlists the conditions for success of PIM along with an in-depth examination of the impediments on the path towards success. The terms, PIM and IMT have been used interchangeably. Although this review takes into consideration all the Indian states where the PIM is being implemented, the major illustrations have been drawn from Maharashtra where this strategy appears to be the most pragmatic and sustainable. All countries, including India, must be cautious of the financial allurements of funding agencies because PIM seems to distinct phases.

Starting from around 1975 and for about a decade until 1985, the emphasis initially was on creating outlet-based water user organisations, and later on research leading to support for PIM as a pragmatic solution for equitable distribution of water among the irrigators, maintenance of water conveyance micro structures and resolution of conflicts amongst the water users.

During the second phase (1985-90), the emphasis shifted from research on PIM to experimentation with PIM. Therefore, a number of pilot projects were started and developed all over the country during this period. The ministry of water resources, the World Bank and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), aided and assisted in the establishments of pilots, while NGOs played a catalytic role in mobilising farmers and sustaining the pilots.

The third phase starting from the early 1990s has seen the emergence and propagation of the idea of a handover/turnover of irrigation systems in case of smaller systems and a devolution of management of sub-systems, particularly at the level of distributaries/minors in case of larger systems to the irrigating farmers. This was started in Maharashtra in the early 1990s, followed by India’s first Farmers’ Management of Irrigation Systems (FMIS) Act in Andhra Pradesh in 1997. At least six states (Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,2 Rajasthan, Karnataka and Orissa) have now enacted legislation that makes PIM a statutory requirement to get access to irrigation water. The water user associations (WUAs) have grown up in almost all other states and many of the states (like Maharashtra) are in the process of enacting of similar legislation.

The fourth phase starting from 1997, marks the emergence of donor-funding as a bait for restructuring India’s irrigation sector with PIM/IMT as a core programme.

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The two available models in India are the Andhra Pradesh model and Maharashtra model. The former represents a top-town approach where the act was passed in a relatively short time and a large number of WUAs were established with a bang. However, the autonomy and sustainability of WUAs are being questioned both by academics and activists. On the other hand, in Maharashtra, where establishment of WUAs has been going on for over the last 15 years and the act to be passed is still in the making.3 The state government is keen to have a comprehensive legislation governing the WUAs. This draft act entitled ‘Farmer’s Management of Irrigation System Act’ along with the drafts of other complementary legislation has been widely circulated and discussed for the past two years.

Conditions for Success

The detailed analysis provided here is not confined to the stereotype examination of “enabling environment”. The sequencing of conditions of success and later that of impediments has been done in terms of their importance and/or logical occurrence.

Criticalness of Canal Water: The most important factor identified in making farmers come together and work for the common good was the critical necessity of canal water for the survival of crops grown and even the farmers’ own survival. During a visit to Gambhiri irrigation project area in Chittorgarh district in 1984 to enhance the PIM component in the project, it was found that the farmers were engaged in deep rock cutting, including blasting, high filling up to 0.75 metres, and much excavation work, in one case over 2 km long. Further discussions revealed that the canal water was critical for the survival of their mustard crop.4 As a matter of fact, if farmers find that by coming together and forming a WUA, they may enhance and optimise their water supply in a situation where they do not have any other feasible option, they would go out of their way and work physically by offering volunteer labour, paid labour or by contributing machinery to do

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earthen work for improving their water delivery.

In a large number of cases where the minors/distributaries on which WUAs were formed were located towards the tail of the system and they were not getting any water worth the name, the farmers contributed their voluntary labour to construct several check dams across the nalas flowing through the commands of WUAs to improve the groundwater level and to apply conjunctive use of ground and surface water. In fact, in some cases the WUAs had evolved an appropriate system of charging for the use of well water by their members. This inforces the point that if canal water is critical for the lives of farmers and they do not have any other feasible and economically viable means, they would come forward, form a WUA and then try to sustain it [Pant 1995, 2000].

Right Kind of Multiple Local Leadership:

One common feature of all the successful WUAs is the right kind of local leadership. By right kind, we do not mean “selfless commitment”. In most of the cases, it was found that the local leadership, which was the main drawing force, as well as the management committee members had a vested interest in the WUAs. Their average landholdings were higher compared to the average holdings of the members. Such rural elites who had local influence and high socio-economic status had a propensity to come forward to work for a common good where they could also derive an advantage for themselves [Pant 1981, 1986 and 2000].

If the WUA has to sustain itself, the right kind of multiple local leadership must emerge. The local organisations when initiated by committee members or by the members of the general bodies have greater chances of sustainability. Further, those organisations are likely to have a greater sustainability, which depend on multiple local leaders, in comparison with the organisations, which depend on an individual leader. This is what distinguishes institutionalisation from non- institutionalisation of the leadership, and in the latter case, the organisation collapses with the disappearance of the leader from the scene, while in the former case even if the leader is no more in the scene, the local organisation continues to flourish [Pant and Pant 1996].

Provision of Incentives: One conclusion from our various studies whether from Bihar [Pant and Verma 1983] or from Maharashtra [Pant 1999, 2000] or from UP [Pant 2006] that comes out is that incentives must be built around the programme of PIM/IMT, if it has to succeed at least in the initial stage. As the organisation grows and stabilises, such incentives can be reduced and ultimately withdrawn completely.

The IMT programme in India involves a number of incentives, which attract farmers towards establishing WUAs. In Maharashtra, for instance, a number of concessions/incentives are available for the IMT programme.

First, there is a management grant at the rate of Rs 100 per ha for the first and the second years and at Rs 75 per ha for the third year. Since the 50 per cent matching grant from the government of India under this component is available only for the Command Area Development Agency (CADA) projects in non-CADA projects, the matching portion is also provided by the state government.5 Second, GoM provides mainten ance grants to the WUAs at the rate of Rs 20 per ha per year. Third, 5 per cent concession is given to the WUAs on timely payment of water charges. Fourth, the WUAs are provided water on a volumetric basis, which comes much cheaper to the water calculated on area basis. Fifth, the WUAs do not have to face any crop restriction. The WUAs are given an allocated quota of water and within this quota they can grow any crop they like. Sixth, the IMT involves the rehabilitation of an irrigation sub-system to its designed level or at least to a workable operation level. The rehabilitation work involves repairs of about Rs 8 to 10 lakh per WUA, which goes along with IMT. Seventh, non-members can be charged 30 per cent more than members’ water charges; therefore, it is an incentive to form and join a WUA.

One of the reasons that there is so much enthusiasm among farmers for IMT in Maharashtra is that, against

31 206 WUAs where IMT has taken place covering an area of 78,356 ha, there are 645 WUAs involving an area of 2,33,669 ha which are in various stages of completion of IMT.

Close Involvement of the Officials:

Based on past and current research it has been found that the most successful WUAs were the ones where greater interaction and most frequent contacts between the irrigation department officials and WUAs were obtained. The WUAs have succeeded and have been sustained only in such projects where the senior irrigation bureaucracy took a keen interest and the field staff genuinely worked in close collaboration with farmers. In the initial stage, WUAs need assistance for registration, an accounting system and development of internal structures that are conducive to high-level participation. In cases where this close interaction and collaboration was lacking and the WUA was created to fulfil the target requirement, the association collapsed as soon as the management subsidy ended. On the contrary, hollow promises reduce the legitimacy of the WUA considerably and the beneficiary farmers tend to lose faith in the existence of WUA [Pant 1981, 1993, 1999 and 2000].

In the Indian setting the executive engineer (EE) is the most important person in establishing WUAs. Three to six assistant engineers and about 10 to 14 junior engineers (JEs) work under him. Besides them, supporting staff like ‘sinchpals’ and ‘khalasis’ and labourers also work in the division. No doubt, higher officials like the senior engineer (SE) and chief engineer’s (CE) support and encouragement is also necessary, but the success at the field level depends on the interest of the EE. The burden of success of PIM, in general and that of WUAs in particular, lies mainly on the leadership of the EEs who can transform WUAs into living institutions or can mar them to oblivion even before they are born.

The assessment of the author in respect of the ongoing World Bank project in Uttar Pradesh is that no care has been taken in the placement of divisional engineers and other staff in critical positions. Anywhere in the developing world, where the PIM experiment has succeeded, lot of care has been taken in the placement of staff in critical positions [Pant 2006].

Assistance from NGOs: Irrigation agencies all over the world consist of mainly engineers who generally do not have the expertise in motivating farmers for collective action in solving their water-related problems. Therefore, it is accepted that an NGO can play an important role in motivating farmers to form the WUAs. It is pointed out that the NGOs can be catalysts and facilitators in the identification of forward-looking and progressive farmers, in helping farmers getting their association registered, including getting their rules and regulations formulated, helping the WUAs initially in smooth transaction of their business, including maintenance of record and accounts, etc.

Based on the detailed case studies of Maharashtra, it can be said that wherever the WUA was established by local leaders with the guidance of NGOs like Samaj Parivartan Kendra (SPK), Nasik or Society for Promotion of Participatory Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM), Pune, the WUAs have been working quite satisfactorily.

Democratic Functioning: One of the preconditions that need to be set for the registration of WUAs is that 51 per cent of the beneficiaries and beneficiaries with 51 per cent of the land in the Cultural Command Area (CCA) must be agreeable to forming the WUA.6 This is necessary so that such a condition may prohibit a few big farmers who hold 51 per cent of the CCA to form WUAs for their vested interests disregarding the interest of small and marginal farmers.

Other components of legitimate democratic functioning include periodic elections, defined rights, including safeguards to protect the interests of small farmers, minorities and women, a written Constitution and by-laws, and regular meetings of the executive and the general body. Of these, the foremost is a written Constitution with a general body and an executive committee and the regulative mechanism of the same. The important question is to what extent the WUAs observe these requirements in a true spirit. In all successful cases of PIM, the proceedings were duly recorded, elections took place at regular intervals and in a large majority of cases the minutes/decisions of the organs of WUAs were typed/printed and widely circulated [Pant 1999 and 2000].

Memorandum of Understanding: The following three points, which constitute the core components, must be reflected in the MoU. One, farmers should have this right to water7 allocation through the agreement and would therefore get sustainability and assurance in receiving a predetermined quantity of water at a predetermined time. Two, they should have the right to information and thereby, the right to demand the information related to water availability. Three, the PIM would create a sense of ownership in respect of the irrigation system, which would eventually be scaled up in the form of higher levels of federations of water users.

When a farmer receives water supply on an area basis, he receives a service for his field. He is not interested in the water that flows out of his field (in the losses) because his stake does not cover that portion of the water. When he is delivered water on a volumetric basis, the water that flows away is water that he has paid for, it is water in which he has a stake and there is a possibility of getting him motivated to save that water, to increase his stake. Volumetric supply is, therefore, necessary to make him a stakeholder in the quantum of water delivered [SOPPECOM 2004].

In Maharashtra, the agreement/MoU between the WUAs and the irrigation department is the instrument, which secures provision of water quota to the WUA seasonwise. This quota varies from one WUA to another. In some cases the quota is only for rabi and kharif, while in others, it is spread to all the three seasons, including the hot weather. However, when the quantity of water in the reservoir itself was below normal, the quota for the WUAs was accordingly reduced. This reduction during abnormal circumstances is provided in the MoU of all WUAs. In Maharashtra, each WUA is entitled to save rabi quota for the summer after a deduction of 30 per cent (on account of conveyance losses). This means each WUA is entitled to utilise 70 per cent of its rabi water saved in its “water bank” during summer.

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The irrigation department provides the agreed amount of water at the minor head, where measuring devices are installed before the MoU. The responsibility for maintenance rests with the WUA. In view of this, the WUA gets maintenance grants at the rate of Rs 20 per ha per year from the ID. The WUA also collects the water charges from the users and deposits the same seasonwise with the ID. In case of timely payment, the WUA gets a concession of 5 per cent from the amount collected by the WUA. Thus, all rights and responsibilities of the irrigation department and WUAs are clearly specified in each and every MoU that the irrigation department enters with a WUA. It was found that except for proper maintenance of the minor and the micro conveyance structure related to it, all other terms and conditions are fully adhered to by the two parties. In respect of proper maintenance of the minor, the WUAs complain that first the rehabilitation of the system is generally not done as per the joint inspection report and the systems are generally transferred to WUAs with a promise of completion of full repairs “soon”. In reality, these incomplete works are never completed. Second, the WUAs feel the amount provided for the maintenance is quite inadequate. In 1992, when the guidelines were issued, it was agreed by the GoM to revise the Rs 20 per ha rate after every two years. In reality, no revision was done even after a lapse of seven years.

The WUAs have to often accept the takeover of the systems even though the rehabilitation work is incomplete. In reality, a reasonably sound physical system seems to be acceptable to farmers. This, in realistic terms, means the system with a measuring device at the off-taking point of the minor, selective lining and even 50 to 60 per cent of designed discharge is considered a comparatively sound physical system. The majority of the successful WUAs in Maharashtra have this type of physical system. This leads to two suggestions. First, formation of WUAs in all new projects should be made compulsory so that the question of rehabilitation is not raised. Second, in case of the on going projects, a mutually acceptable physical system should be handed over to

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the WUAs without waiting for its complete rehabilitation or renovation.

Legitimacy of WUAs: Legitimacy is different from legality and it need not follow legality. In respect of WUAs, two instruments provide the legal basis. One, registration of the WUA and second, the signing of the MoU/agreement between the irrigation department and the WUA. However, in reality what is important is the acquisition of legitimacy of the authority of the WUA not only in the eyes of group members and of neighbouring villages, but also in the eyes of the officials of government institutions and agencies of financial insti tutions, etc. Here lies the success of the WUA. However, it does not come overnight, but is the result of a continuous process of consoli dation/stabilisation and institutionalisation. In all cases where we found the WUAs had obtained a high level of legitimacy in respect to their existence, the rise in legitimacy was a sequential process resulting from the following. Initial success in the management of irrigation functions dealing with distribution of water among users, maintenance and upkeep of water conveyance structures and resolution of conflicts among users and between users and the irrigation department gave a boost to WUAs in broadening their functions and taking up allied agricultural activities such as provision of seeds and fertilisers, etc [Pant 1986 and 2000].

An important element in the acquisition of legitimacy was found to be the extent to which the irrigation department officials met the genuine demands of the farmers. If the repeated complaints of a WUA about inadequate and irregular supply of water do not rectify the position, the water users lose interest and the WUAs tend to become defunct. On the contrary, if the genuine demands of the WUA are met, it grows, stabilises/institutionalises and becomes a role model.

Elimination of Impediments

The two broad strategies adopted in the implementation of PIM in India are, the legislative and the motivational strategies. The Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh experience broadly exemplifies the legislative strategy. It concentrates on a rapid and extensive introduction of PIM through legislative measures. In contrast, the Maharashtra and Gujarat experience mainly exemplifies the motivational strategy. The emphasis is on first building up awareness, creating motivation and then introducing PIM. These strategies could also be contrasted as top-down and bottom-up strategies, respectively. The former is also called the “big bang”.

Absence of a Clear-cut Policy and Vision Statement: Even those states which have enacted legislation have not come out with a clear-cut policy statement that governments have decided to hand over the management of irrigation systems at the minor/distributary level to the WUAs in a phased manner and within a fixed time frame. Consequently, the government officials do not attach required importance to the work concerning forming and sustaining WUAs. The irrigation bureaucracy, meanwhile, works with a rigid mindset. The officials think that it is not their work and that an extra and unnecessary task has been imposed on them.

Building WUAs is a long drawn social process and cannot be done by issuing orders. Experience shows that after the system is turned over, the officials of irrigation department feel that their role is over. Ideally, with the completion of this stage of work, the role of the irrigation department changes to providing assistance and support to WUAs. It is, therefore, necessary that each state government should come out with a clear-cut vision statement along with a clear mandate and milestones for making WUAs autonomous. This would require changes both at the project and WUA levels [DSC 2006: 20].

Delays in Completing IMT Requirements: The stage of IMT comes after a number of preliminary requirements are fulfilled. These include registration of the WUA, joint inspection of the system to identify the operational deficiencies, signing of MoU and hydraulic testing of the system. Even if registration has been completed, the joint inspection may not be carried out in time and it gets delayed unnecessarily. When it takes place, the presence of the representatives of WUAs in this joint inspection is notional. They are not allowed to have their views incorporated in the joint inspection report. Their views may be disregarded on grounds that they are non-technical. Even when the estimates of rehabilitation works are prepared, the same are not shown to the WUA representatives. Again, estimates are not prepared in time. The general tendency in preparing the estimates is to put lot of lining work, which is unnecessary and is incorporated mainly to get the work cost inflated. Once the execution of rehabilitation work starts, it is not done pro perly, particularly in the work relating to embankments and masonry structures. Finally, the hydraulic testing of the system is not done before handing over the system to the WUA. As per the agreement, this is required to be done before the handover. In the absence of testing, the WUA does not know the water conveyance losses and water conveyance efficiencies. It is therefore necessary to prepare time bound work plans which have to be discussed and sanctioned and the concerned officers should be held responsible and punished if the time schedule is not observed.

Delay in Rehabilitation Works: The main obstacle in effecting IMT is the rehabilitation of the minor system, which lags far behind due to non-availability of funds. This is the main delay between the registration and IMT and the delay was found to vary between 15 and 27 months. This delay happens because of the delay in carrying out rehabilitation of minors and the other deficiencies con cerning the structures found at the time of the joint inspection. In Maharashtra, up to March 2004, there were 533 functioning WUAs encompassing 1,58,000 ha of CCA. As against this, there were 1,939 societies containing a CCA of about 6,39,000 ha waiting for IMT [SOPPECOM 2004]. The most damaging impact of this delay is that farmers start losing all their enthusiasm and things are again back to square one.

It is estimated that repairs of such work on an average cost between Rs 8 lakh and Rs 12 lakh. These delays are mainly due to non-availability of funds. This is in spite of the fact that in 1995, GoM had issued instructions that 10 per cent of the operation and management grants should be reserved and utilised only for the rehabilitation work relating to registered WUAs, where rehabilitation estimates had been worked out. In reality, operation and management divisions are not following this guideline. It is therefore suggested that the GoM should open a new “budget head” in the annual budget and allot grants specifically for the rehabilitation works proposed under each irrigation project and the same should be clearly shown, as such, in the annual budget separately for each project officer.

There are cases of non-completion of rehabilitation work in the absence of available funds. In some cases where the irrigation department took up such works after the joint inspection, preparation of estimates and provision of funds, the works remained incomplete. Moreover, in many cases the measuring devices constructed by the irrigation department are faulty and therefore, no precise measure ment is possible. Above all, there are also other cases where IMT has taken place but measuring devices have not been installed. In the absence of measuring devices, water bills are prepared on the basis of approximate quantities of water worked out by the lower staff on an ad hoc basis. This means charging the WUAs for quantities of water that they have actually not received. The existence of these WUAs goes against the very premise on which the concept of IMT based – “you pay for the volume of water you take”. All this means that the prevailing scenario is highly detrimental for the success of the IMT programmes.

Lack of Transparency: One of the biggest impediments in the successful execution of the IMT programme is the lack of openness in preparation of estimates and the execution of work. In fact, in joint inspections, the farmers’ points of view are not incorporated. Even the estimates prepared for the rehabilitation works are not shown to WUAs not to talk of seeking their consultation. Finally, when repairs are done, no participation of the WUA takes place. These works are undertaken without any involvement of the representatives of WUAs. Generally, the WUAs are not satisfied with the quality and quantity of work. This procedure is against the principles of joint management and accountability. During our detailed discussions with WUAs, the representatives of these associations were of the view that the involvement of the WUAs in both the stages is necessary. They were of the view that a copy of the rehabilitation estimates prepared by the irrigation department must be given to the WUAs for their comments. Similarly, the repair work done by the contractors appointed by the irrigation department must be supervised and certified as satisfactory by the representatives of the WUAs.

Target versus Sustainability

Mere targets are not enough; field staff’s passion, commitment, devotion and faith in the IMT programme are necessary. Creating collective organisations for the common good is a formidable task. It requires a great deal of patience to persuade, encourage and guide the farmers in the process of formation of WUAs. A few meetings with farmers are not enough. Initially, two three-day day and night camps in strategic locations with the presence of senior level irrigation department staff are a must for breaking ground. Such camps must be followed by a series of meetings in the same and other strategic locations [Pant 2006].

In situations where a host country or a state of that country where a donor-assisted project is being implemented is not committed to the concept of PIM, then donor assistance becomes more a curse than an opportunity. A case in point is the World Bank funded Piloting Reform Options for Irrigation and Drainage project in Uttar Pradesh. In this project the implementing agency did not do anything for over three years for the establishment of WUAs and then within a span of couple of months undue haste was exercised in the registration and handing over/agreements (MoU) for maintenance to WUAs.

Since the project envisaged establishment of 416 WUAs in the same number of minors, within no time 416 WUA had been registered and agreements had been signed with them for the limited purposes of mainten ance. Side by side, against all norms of democratic procedures and autonomy of the WUA, the junior engineer of irrigation department was made the secretary of the WUA and a signatory of its bank account. Further, the chairman of

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the project activity core team had claimed, after a one day field visit, “that the state is undergoing a silent revolution paving the way to farmers for equitable distribution of irrigation water through minors managed by water users associations”. This was done as the apparent focus of the programme was to attain targets for rapid establishment of WUAs in the project commands without adequate preparation and this was bound to turn out to be counterproductive. The model of the WUA, which is created with such haste in a ritualistic manner, is bound to be in line with the “filling the records” and as such the institution is bound to be manipulated. As a result, it would remain a creature of the state government and thus quickly fail as a sustainable institution.

Although there is an overt state policy on participatory irrigation management, it seems that this policy has not been covertly accepted and internalised, and therefore, does not coincide with agreed objectives and obligations under the World Bank-funded Uttar Pradesh Water Sector Restructuring Project (UPWSRP). Another major problem is found to be rampant corruption in execution of the PIM programme.

The nexus between the NGOs, consultants and the implementing agencies has become so institutionalised that it cannot be broken unless the donor-funding agency is genuinely interested in the implementation of PIM/IMT in letter and spirit. On the contrary, the donor and the state government do everything to stifle the concerns of the specialist, first by pressurising him to withdraw such “undesirable” portions from his report and when he does not relent, they succeed in pressurising the consultancy firm to terminate his contract mid-way so that they manipulate things to suit their ends [Pant 2006].

Lack of Appropriate Training: The training needs of the WUAs programme far exceed the accomplishments in this respect in any of the states in India. The scale of training needs to be hiked up at two levels. One, at the level of the irrigation bureaucracy. The other, at the level of WUAs, where farmers and WUA functionaries need to be provided training. Thus, the formal and informal training

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for capacity-building to the concerned officers and field staff of the irrigation department and farmers and office-bearers of WUA to form and run the WUAs smoothly and profitably is a must. In order to increase the pace of implementation of the PIM and attain sustainability of WUAs, it is very necessary to change the mindsets of government officials and to enthuse among them a sense of devotion and commitment to the IMT programme. One of the most important factors responsible for the failure of government-initiated WUAs is the attitude of the implementing staff, towards the members of new organisations. It has often been found to be a relationship of an unequal or unbalanced kind. The attitude of the staff is frequently of superiority towards these members [Abernathy 2004].

In case of farmers it would require orienting them to irrigation in a collective way through group action and joint management with irrigation department ultimately developing management capability both in terms of sub-system management and organisational management of WUAs. In respect of WUAs, it is found that they are not fully aware about their rights and responsibilities. Further, they are not guided about their powers to fix water rates, recovery of management costs, running rates and for enforcing discipline in taking water, above all, in matters relating to maintenance of records and accounts. For successful insti tutional development, training programmes for WUA members and functionaries are essential. The important components of the training programme should include: water measurement, losses, depth of water in the field, how much water is needed for a crop-land unit, financial operations, accounting, auditing, maintenance, upkeep and repairs, office procedures, correspondence, etc.

Lack of Monitoring and Evaluation: In the sphere of major and medium irrigation projects, which are tightly controlled and regulated in all respects like water allotment, distribution, fee collection and cropping pattern by departmental procedures, any steps towards IMT are fraught with all kinds of hurdles. It is, therefore, mandatory in such a situation that progress is closely monitored and impacts duly evaluated. The IMT involves two stages. The first is the creation of the WUA, and the second and more important its sustenance. While the first role could be performed by the government, NGOs or local leadership, the second cannot be attained without the full involvement of the irrigation department, including closely monitoring its progress and evaluating its results.

Although issues for evaluation are often spelled out, no specific parameters for evaluation are identified. Where parameters are mentioned, no precise measurements are formulated and thus no scoreboards are prepared for monitoring the performance of the WUAs. Where detailed manuals are prepared for this purpose, the check list is so detailed that it is not feasible to use such check lists for a quick and quantifiable assessment by teams of officials, consultants, researchers, etc, who make short field visits to assess the functioning of the WUAs. Keeping all these points in mind and based on a number of field visits, the author has prepared a simple and easily workable format for assessing the performance of the WUAs in a comparative and quantifiable manner (Annexure 1). The format may be further improved after field visit experiences.


Large canal systems in India contain nearly 40 per cent of the country’s total irrigation potential of 94 million ha, a substantial part of which remains unutilised. The main reason for the lack of utilisation is the poor maintenance of irrigation systems, particularly the micro systems at lower levels and those at the farm level. Faced, on the one hand, by the near collapse of such irrigation systems and on the other, by a financial crunch, administrators are susceptible to donors like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, who are currently coming forward with funds with the conditionality of PIM. The scenario that exists in India provides both an opportunity and challenge. This paper based on the author’s experience as a researcher/consultant cutting across country’s cultural and geographical boundaries, shortlists conditions for success of PIM along with a close scrutiny and analysis of the impediments on its path. Although the examination takes into Orissa Water Resources Consolidation consideration all the Indian states where Project that was initiated by the World the PIM is being implemented, a lot of il-Bank in 1995 and was closed in 2004. The lustrations have been drawn from project when formulated had proclaimed Maharashtra mainly because its strategy attaining PIM/IMT but it failed miserably appears to be the most pragmatic and and now a new entrant in the field (ADB) is sustainable. hoping to succeed where the World Bank

Although the concept of PIM has been failed. The time has come when more tried in India for over the last 30 years, it pragmatic models leading to greater privatihas yet to achieve even a semblance of sation in respect of large canal sector replace acceptability and replicability, not to talk PIM/IMT as is being tried in China and of scaling up. Considering the fact that some of the Latin American countries. by the end of the Ninth Five-Year Plan The author apprehends that the whole (2002) an irrigation potential of about 37 exercise smacks of a planned propaganda million ha had been created through major on the part of lending organisations like and medium canal projects but not even 1 the World Bank and the ADB. They themper cent of this potential had been covered selves know that PIM is an infeasible proby PIM/IMT, speaks volumes about the position; hence they are either behaving failure of the concept, which is so dear to like ostriches or are active collaborators international donor agencies. of a “willing suspension of dis belief”

drama since it serves their

Annexure 1: Format for Assessing WUA Performance

interest. The author had the

Particulars Level of Performance Excellent Good Average Poor V Poor

opportunity of seeing this

Weightage Points (5) (4) (3) (2) (1)

whole drama during the


(A) Level of participation 10th international seminar Leadership capability

at Tehran during May 2007.

Members’ awareness about WUA status

Here all the bigwigs of

Productive meetings Voluntary physical/labour contribution International Network on

Voluntary financial contribution

Participatory Irrigation

Social audit/transparency

Management (INPIM) (of

(B) O and M Removal of silt and weeds the World Bank) and Inter

Repairs/maintenance of structure

Protection of structure

Dispute management

(C) Water management Adequate and timely water supply

Information about water distribution

Efforts to save water

(D) Financial management Fund generation

Utilisation of maintenance and operation fund

Recovery of irrigation fees (when applicable)

Financial audit

national Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID-CIID) were busy with patting each others back for the success of PIM without any regard to the ground level factual position. The farcical drama ended with a field visit to interact with

(E) Organisational linkage

the WUAs in Ghazvin irriga-

Horizontal linkages with other WUAs

tion system of Iran where

Vertical linkages Information and communication the WUAs had ceased to ex-

Discussion with competent authority

ist even before the show

For the purposes of quantifying WUAs, l evel of performance following weightage points would be used = 5 (excellent), 4 (good), 3 (average), 2 ( poor) and 1(v poor). Since 21 parameters have been used pieces could have been in the socio-metric scale, the performance will be measured between most excellent (105 points) and

shown to visiting interna

extremely poor (21 points).

tional participants.

It is understandable that fund-starved state governments are rushing to donors Notes like the World Bank and the Asian Devel-1 The man behind the present-day PIM and irriga

tion cooperatives in Maharashtra was the legen

opment Bank but what is beyond compre

dary civil engineer M Visvesvaraya, who as early hension is why the donors are keen to sell as 1902-03 had advocated establishment of such cooperatives in respect of Khadakwasla canals

the PIM/IMT concept when it has met with

while working as an assistant engineer in the then an all-round failure all over the develop-Bombay state. The two earliest water user cooperatives were established in the 1930s. The first one,

ing world. They do not even want to learn

Saswad Mali Society, was established in 1932 in lessons from the past. A case in point is the Pune district. The second, Samvastar Vibhag

Water Supply Cooperative Society was established in 1936 in Ahmednagar district. 2 The state has retained the PIM Act that was passed in 1999 when it was a part of Madhya Pradesh.

3 Although the government of Maharashtra in its resolution dated July 23, 2001 had indicated that no water permission would be given to individual farmers and that only WUAs would be eligible for water entitlements, the resolution could not be executed.

4 All this was communicated to Robert Chambers, who incorporated it later in his book [Chambers 1988: 165].

5 As per the financing pattern wef April 1, 1996 a functional grant in lieu of management subsidy is to be given to the WUAs at Rs 500 per ha to be shared between the GoI, the state government and the WUAs in the proportion of Rs 225:225:50 respectively.

6 In Maharashtra both the conditions need not be satisfied and, even if one of the two conditions is met, a WUA becomes eligible for registration.

7 Right to water assumes volumetric supply of water to WUAs. One of the important lessons of the Maharashtra experience is the importance of volumetric supply of water, about which a consensus seems to have arrived in respect of IMT everywhere.


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    January 5, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly

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