Op-Ed: Sort Out Basic Flaws In Smaller Irrigation Schemes

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Effective major irrigation schemes being few and far between in Odisha it is important to support initiatives like tank irrigation. They can come in handy in times of distress for farmers. But sustaining such initiatives is not easy. When funds are not a problem lack of awareness and motivation among people acts as a hurdle.

Not too long ago Odisha had witnessed the launch of an ambitious project to rebuild irrigation tanks across the state to improve agricultural productivity and provide livelihood support to villagers. The Rs 546-crore Orissa Community Tank Management Project (OCTMP) was being implemented in 29 of the state’s 30 districts including the most backward Kalahandi-Balangir-Koraput (KBK) belt.

Nine hundred water tanks capable of irrigating 120,000 hectares (ha) were identified by the government for repairs following which they were to be handed over to water users’ associations or pani panchayats, for maintenance. The project was supposed to make water users more responsible by making them stakeholders. Apart from volunteering labour they were to bear a small part of the cost of construction.

Making the villagers stakeholders in the project was a brilliant idea but motivating the pani panchayats to pay even a small part of the construction cost of the tanks was not easy. This was the experience of some non-profit organisations involved in the project.

Equally challenging was the job of training the associations to manage the tanks. The project had four aspects–improving tank systems, extending livelihood support, institutional improvement and project management. Institutional strengthening involved training of members of the water panchayats responsible for implementing the projects along with government agencies.

Nine hundred of the 3,646 large irrigation tanks in the state were selected after considering the demographic profile, hydrological feasibility and commitment of the respective pani panchayats. But training and motivation remained a challenge throughout.

Officials had hoped that community involvement would ensure that pani panchayats shoulder the responsibility of managing the irrigation tanks once they were ready. However, the experience of Odisha Lift Irrigation Corporation with these panchayats had not been very encouraging. Sources said the corporation had handed over 12,788 lift irrigation points for irrigating fields on higher levels to water panchayats for management but more than 2,000 of them became defunct soon after. Internal politics among the pani panchayat members was cited as the main reason for this.

The non-profits roped in to motivate the pani panchayats said training of water associations, cost sharing and working out livelihood plan alone would not ensure the success of the tank irrigation project. These organisations could create awareness and act as intermediaries between the people and the government but the final outcome depended on the confidence and autonomy of the pani panchayats.

The truth is many ambitious irrigation and livelihood support projects in the past have failed to achieve the desired results because of inherent flaws. While some floundered because they failed to enthuse the farmers and make them part of the decision making process others did not make any headway for want of sound operational rules. For smaller irrigation schemes to be effective we must sort out these problems.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)