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Sustainable Development of Small Water Bodies in Tamil Nadu

The government should immediately initiate a detailed investigation of basic information for all tanks in Tamil Nadu as well as the country as a whole. Further, a periodic desiltation and strengthening of tank infrastructure should be undertaken as routine process. Also legislation should be enacted (for eviction of encroachers and punishing illegal water users), legal measures tightened and powers given to revenue authorities along with the local tank organisation to undertake maintenance and management of the tank system effectively. Care must be taken that these legal measures do not affect inter-departmental functions and that these laws actually help the authorities concerned to improve tank efficiency.

Sustainable Development of Small Water Bodies in Tamil Nadu

The government should immediately initiate a detailed investigation of basic information for all tanks in Tamil Nadu as well as the country as a whole. Further, a periodic desiltation and strengthening of tank infrastructure should be undertaken as routine process. Also legislation should be enacted (for eviction of encroachers and punishing illegal water users), legal measures tightened and powers given to revenue authorities along with the local tank organisation to undertake maintenance and management of the tank system effectively. Care must be taken that these legal measures do not affect inter-departmental functions and that these laws actually help the authorities concerned to improve tank efficiency.



here are several factors responsible for the low productivity of agriculture in many states of India. One of the primary factors is the inadequate and unsustainable irrigation facilities created and managed by both the government and local communities. Even though the irrigated area of the country has increased more than two-fold (from 22.3 million hectares to 53.5 million hectares) over the past five decades, the rainfed areas still account for 62 per cent of the cultivated land and contribute to nearly 44 per cent of agricultural output.

The quality of irrigation – that is, the ability to regulate timing and quantity of water supply to particular plots according to crop needs – varies between different types of projects. Large reservoirs, which harness rainfall over extensive areas, provide a larger volume, and more assured supply than minor irrigation works like tanks which depend mostly on local rainfall. By contrast, in the case of wells which usually serve small areas, often belonging to a single farmer, it is easier to regulate water supply according to specific circumstances and needs of individual farmers. So, the quality of irrigation is better in the case of wells. However, wells are not always reliable in all areas, especially, where there is no surface source of supply available. In those areas well water is mostly dependent on the availability of rainfall and this situation prevails in most parts of the country. In order to overcome this difficulty, the rain harvesting method was encouraged by the government. This method is useful to store water which is available in a smaller catchment area through construction of tanks. But these tanks are not altogether feasible to store water which is available from the larger catchment through big river basins and perennial streams. In order to utilise the river water the governments took the initiative to build dams and reservoirs to store available water which was mainly used for irrigation other than power generation. Hence the growing role of reservoir based surface irrigation and wells have helped to improve the quality of irrigation [Sivasubramaniyan 1995].

A sound understanding of the pattern of agricultural development through expansion of different sources of irrigation is important mainly to provide preference to one source to other which would help to develop further the preferencial source in a complementary manner. In short, among different sources (canals, tanks, wells and other sources) of irrigation, tanks (otherwise called small water bodies) are considered the prime source for the development of agriculture, because this source also indirectly helps the wells to get recharge its supply. Even then, due importance has not been given over the plan periods to develop this source in a sustainable manner. As a result, the country has been facing water scarcity problems in most regions and also depriving wells adequate recharge. There are number of studies available on tank irrigation but most of them to focus their attention on one or two aspects only. Hence, in this paper, an attempt has been made to provide a comprehensive view of smaller water bodies such as tanks, their present condition, the necessity and importance to develop this source all over India. The main focus of the paper is to: (i) provide a comprehensive view of tank irrigation and its management based on available studies; (ii) find out the reasons for the decline of tank irrigation in Tamil Nadu and (iii) suggest ways to revive this source to its previous position, in terms of the area irrigated by this source, say a million hectares in Tamil Nadu. The paper is organised in the following fashion. Section II discusses user participation in management of irrigation systems in India and other parts of the world; Section III provides a comparative picture of different sources of irrigation in India as well as in Tamil Nadu in a historical perspective and the importance of tanks in the three southern states of India; Section IV examines the major problems faced by the tank irrigation system; Section V is devoted to policy recommendations for improvement and restoration of tanks and finally Section VI outlines the conclusions.

User Participation in ManagementUser Participation in ManagementUser Participation in ManagementUser Participation in ManagementUser Participation in Management

There is good reason to believe that centralised bureaucratic management with little or no user participation leads to inefficient irrigation, which contributes to the poor quality of irrigation provided by state-run systems. This has long been emphasised in irrigation management literature [ Coward 1980; Downing and Gibson 1974]. Recent studies underscore this point even more forcefully [Vaidyanathan 1991; Chambers 1988; Sengupta 1991; Ostrom 1992; Tang 1992; GoI 1992; IIMI 1994, Sivasubramaniyan 1985].

In India, the need for wider involvement and participation of users for effective management has been long recognised. Encouraging users’ involvement is now part of official policy. The necessary enabling legislation has also been enacted in several states. A number of experiments in this direction have also been made under the auspices of non-governmental organisations in different parts of the country. However, a recent assessment of this experience has concluded thus: “Efforts to actually organise farmers’ groups and make them participate in management have been patchy and can claim only a limited success so far. Most state governments have not really pursued the idea seriously” [GoI 1992: 125]. However, Maharashtra and Gujarat have done considerable pioneering work, both through non-governmental and government organisations.

Elsewhere in the world, similar experiments1 have been made or are under way. They vary in scope - some have set up local water users associations; some have tried to involve them in the management of the system as a whole; and in a few cases more radical reforms seeking to get users to participate in system design, contribute to the costs and take responsibility for maintenance and operation, are being attempted.

A major role for users in decision making and greater responsibility for carrying out various management tasks such as construction of irrigation structures, operation and maintenance, water allocation and resolution of conflicts in all phases of irrigation system such as water source control, water delivery, water use and water drainage is necessary. As Ostrom (1992) has pointed out involving users and suppliers directly in all stages (including design) helps ensure that institutions are well matched to the particular physical, economic and cultural environment of each system. Such “self-governing” systems are more flexible, distribute water more equitably, and neutralise the “perverse incentives” that lead managers and consumers to abuse and neglect irrigation facilities.

The question of moving towards a self-governing form of irrigation organisation with user involvement is important in the case of relatively large systems now under state control and even smaller, multi-community systems where the state plays an important role. But the problem is rather different in the case of local surface irrigation works – which have a tradition of community management. These works are very numerous and account for a sizeable proportion of the irrigated area in India. While their problems are different, their experience in user management

– the manner in which they are managed, the way they have changed over time, and their problems in ensuring efficient and equitable water management – are of considerable practical interest to institutional reform in larger irrigation systems.

Management of Local Systems

India has a long tradition of using small storage and diversion canals drawn from local streams and rivers. Before the introduction of large reservoir-based canal irrigation and energised pumping of groundwater, tanks were the dominant form of irrigation in several parts of the country. In the 1950s tanks and other minor sources irrigated 6.5 million hectares, which constituted about 29 per cent of the country’s total irrigated land. Since then the bulk of the extension of irrigation has been through large reservoirs and groundwater. The relative importance of minor irrigation, according to official statistics, even the absolute area under this category – has declined. This is attributed partly to the concentration of investment on large storages and groundwater; and partly to the deterioration of traditional local systems [Vaidyanathan 1992:2-5].

Importance of Minor Irrigation Tanks

Rainfall is the only source that brings water to the earth, but nature’s gift is not always utilised properly. In India, with the available annual precipitation of 4000 km3, about 51 per cent is not controllable due to evaporation and 49 per cent goes as runoff. From the latter, currently 35 per cent of surface flow and 20 per cent of ground water are estimated as utilisable water resources. But actually, at present only 30 per cent (600 km3) of both the surface and groundwater resources are brought under utilisation and the remaining 70 per cent need to be developed.

The total capacity of large storages in India at the time of Independence was 18 km3 (636 thousand million cubic feet). It increased to 250 km3 in 2000. The total capacity of tanks and ponds in the 1970s was 15 km3 or 530 tmc. But its capacity has not increased much after that period till now. However, there is wide scope for increasing its capacity if we devote a minimum level of 3 per cent of total area which fetches an increase in capacity of 400 km3. Actually this capacity is much more than the total capacity on all large storages in our country. And this increase is about 26 times more than the present capacity of all tanks in India.

Tank Irrigation in South India

Among minor irrigation works tanks are the most important category. The minor irrigation census conducted in 1985-86 estimated that the country has some 2,50,000 tanks (including tanks-not-in-use). The reported area under tank irrigation was about 3.5 million hectares in the mid-1980s as against 4.5 million hectares recorded in 1960-61. Tank irrigation is particularly widespread in south India. Nearly 60 per cent of the area under tanks is in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In these three states, tanks irrigate a much higher proportion of the total cultivated land (7 per cent against the national average of 2 per cent) and of the total irrigated land (24 per cent as against the national average of 8 per cent) [GoI 1989].

Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have nearly 1,20,000 tanks (out of the 2,08,000 tanks-in-use in the country as a whole) irrigating 1.8 million hectares. During 1997-98 to 1999-2000, the area irrigated by tanks in these three states taken together comprised a little over sixth of the total irrigated area and 6 per cent of the total cultivated area.

Tanks in Tamil Nadu

In Tamil Nadu, where somewhat more detailed information on size distribution of tanks is available, nearly two-fifths have ‘ayacut’ of less than 20 ha. more than half serve less than 40 ha. There are only 534 tanks (less than 2 per cent of the total number) with an ayacut exceeding 200 ha; but these tanks are estimated to irrigate 2,56,000 ha or nearly 25 per cent of the total area. There are a few large tanks with ayacuts exceeding 1,000 hectares, the largest of them serving 6,000 ha [Vaidyanathan and Sivasubramaniyan 2001]. Official figures indicate, Tamil Nadu has some 39,200 tanks of which about half are small (serving less than 40 ha. each) and depend solely on local rainfall. There are about 5300 rainfed tanks with command exceeding 40 ha. Some 3700 tanks are linked to larger systems fed by canals drawn from large rivers and storages. These data should, however, be interpreted with much caution. The Public Works Department (PWD) has no systematic arrangements for maintaining an upto-date inventory of tanks and their ayacuts. Available compilations tend to be outdated. Moreover, the number of tanks as reported in the Season and Crop Reports vary over time; and the net area irrigated by them vary and in general are much below the PWD figures of registered ayacut.

Though the tanks are generally small, each serving one village or a part of it; some are large spread over several villages serving several thousand hectares. However, the volume and duration of water supply relative to area irrigated, as well as its assurance of water supply vary widely among them. There was some quickening of pace in the post-Independence period but outlays have been rather small and results moderate. During the 1980s a large tank modernisation project was started. This programme focused mainly on engineering works to improve tank structures and distribution networks more or less entirely under the PWD. Lately the programme has emphasised participation of users in the tank modernisation projects. Surprisingly, however, neither government reports on minor irrigation nor the modernisation schemes, recognised that tank communities generally have informal local institutions for maintenance and operation. Nor do they explore the role which they might play in improving management.

Community Management of TanksCommunity Management of TanksCommunity Management of TanksCommunity Management of TanksCommunity Management of Tanks

There are few properly documented accounts of the way these user communities worked before the advent of the British rule. It is known that they were governed by customs and tradition; in some cases (notably North Arcot district of Tamil Nadu) these have been codified in writing and published (Water ‘mamulnamas’) in the early 19th century [Sivasubramaniyan 2000b]. Many accounts in the latter part of the 19th century attributed the collapse of the kudimaramath to the decline of these traditions. Currently too there is a widespread belief that traditional arrangements for tank management have disintegrated and become ineffective. But recent studies cited above show that while local tank management institutions are not uniformly effective, and there have been considerable changes, there is no warrant for the belief that they have declined everywhere.

Most communities studied are found to have well defined rules for the contributions by ‘ayacutdars’ for maintenance and managing water allocation, and mechanisms for enforcing the same. In many studies it is found that the community was actively involved in collective action for appropriation of water (by participating in inlet channel maintenance to get increased supply), in maintenance of distribution networks in the ayacut where water is available, and in regulating water use especially in times of shortage through functionaries specifically appointed for the purpose [Sivasubramaniyan 1998a, 1998b].

The general pattern observed in Tamil Nadu [for details see Vaidyanathan and Janakarajan 1989; Rajagopal 1991; Sengupta 1991, 1993; Ramanathan unpublished, Sivasubramaniyan 1997] is that the village leaders (‘nattanmaikars’) drawn from the large landholders of the dominant, usually upper, castes take active part in tank management. In some villages, the task is entrusted to a specialist functionary (‘kavaimaniyam’) experienced and knowledgeable about tank matters. Decisions made by them are implemented by irrigation workers (‘kammukatties’) mostly from the Scheduled Castes by rotation. They are expected to monitor water flows to the tank, watch the bunds and other tank structures, open and close sluices and regulate water flow in the ayacut when required by the ‘nattanmai/kavaimaniyam’. The ‘kammukatties’ are paid by the ayacutdars, usually in kind, on per acre basis. In the Tambraparni basin, the tank level organisations are more formal and elaborate [Sengupta 1991, 1993; Ramanathan unpublished].

There are well recognised procedures for maintenance of the distribution networks, including the contributions expected from theayacutdars, penalties for non-participation and the organisation of work. The ayacutdars are expected to contribute labour in proportion to their holding; sometimes cash contributions are allowed. In some cases the ayacutdars participate in cleaning inlet channels, when the PWD fails to do so. In some villages detailed accounts of contributions, default and fines are maintained.

There are also conventions and rules for regulating the flow of water in the ayacut. Based on a survey of about a dozen tanks in North Arcot district, Chambers (1977) noted the existence of systematic though varying rules for allocating water in times of scarcity. One village distributed water to fixed acreages during scarcity period; in five villages the usual distribution system of the “top-enders first” was practised by the organisation, while in three others a special provision for “tail enders first” in times of scarcity was practised. Chambers reported however that water distribution under tanks was usually both inequitable and inefficient in terms of productivity. Because of conveyance losses water is less productive to the tail end of a channel. Scarcity of water also mostly affects the tail end farmers. The traditional rules of allocation according to the conditions prevailing then may not be applicable to the present. New rules may therefore emerge or changes may take place in the structure and functioning of earlier tank irrigation organisations.

Similar variations are recorded by Vaidyanathan and Janakarajan (1989) in their study on Palar Anicut System. According to them, there are considerable variations in the working of tank organisations: They found that while almost all villages had ‘nattanmaikars’ and ‘neerkatties’, only five had ‘kavaimaniyam’. Eight of the 15 villages covered by the study reported regular maintenance of inlet channels, distributaries and field channels. Six reported that regular maintenance was not done in the last five years. The system of rationing by turn in terms of scarcity was in vogue only in seven villages. The main features of villages where the institution functioned effectively include concentration of land control in one or two upper castes; absence of factions; tank being the only source of irrigation; low level of technology, and low absentee ownership [Janakarajan 1993]. The development of well irrigation and the fact that the 1980s were marked by a series of droughts and low tank supply must also have affected their functioning at the time of the survey.

A comparative study of canal and tank irrigation systems in Cauvery basin in Tamil Nadu has shown stronger institutional set up for collective action to secure supply in the systems with relatively poor, uncertain water availability compared to the system with abundant supply. Greater uncertainty of supplies combined with greater difference between irrigated and unirrigated yield has stimulated greater interest in collective action in the lesser water availability system. The study also reported that the role of institutions in water management to be significant in the lesser water availability system where the degree of scarcity and consequently the potential productivity of water is high, but it is relatively insignificant as the system is not affected much by water scarcity. Even within an irrigation system, irrigation organisation is much stronger in the tail reach as it is more affected by water scarcity than others. This indicates that the extent of involvement of irrigation organisation in water management is linked to the extent of benefits likely to accrue to them by averting crop losses (Rajagopal 1991: 324-8).

The aforesaid studies also show that the characteristics of village level organisation have undergone changes because of vast increase in the number of ayacutdars, shift in land control from a relatively small number of upper caste land-owners to numerous middle and lower castes, the attitude changes of farmers, and the spread of well irrigation in the tank ayacut of several villages. As a result, the arrangements have got modified but have not broken down. There is still a strong tendency to invoke customs and tradition in managing irrigation supplies. The necessity to invoke customs arises due to the fact that one could ascertain from the available data that the area served by tanks has been gradually declining not only in the tank intensive states but also all over the country since the late 1970s. Hence, it is pertinent to analyse the contribution of tank irrigation for sustenance of agriculture over a period of time.

Irrigated Agriculture and Source of IrrigationIrrigated Agriculture and Source of IrrigationIrrigated Agriculture and Source of IrrigationIrrigated Agriculture and Source of IrrigationIrrigated Agriculture and Source of Irrigation

There have been a number of factors responsible for the persistent decline in the importance of tank irrigation over a period of 50 years in India and particularly in Tamil Nadu (TN). Before independence, this tank system – which is one of the major components of minor Irrigation sources – was the major source of irrigation in many of the Indian states. Even now, in some of the districts of TN and also in the southern states of India as mentioned earlier, the contribution of tanks to both the total net irrigated area (NIA) and net sown area (NSA) is appreciable. Both in absolute and relative terms NIA by tanks in India and TN increased up to the 1960s, after that it declined steeply. However in TN, its percentage share to all India level remained more or less constant compared to the 1950s (Table 1).

In absolute terms canal irrigation in Tamil Nadu has been stagnant over the past five decades but in relative terms it has been gradually and steadily declining. The all India data show that while the absolute area has gradually increased from 92 lakh hectares (ha) to 173 lakh ha. the percentage share of canal irrigation has been marginally decreasing and this decrease is comparatively more in the 1990s than the other decades. Only in the case of wells and tube wells category a very steep increase in NIA is observed both in TN and at all India level over the past fifty years. This increase has been remarkable at all India level both in absolute as well as relative terms while in TN it has merely doubled.

On the whole, in TN, the contribution of different sources to NIA over a 50-year period is not encouraging compared to the all India level. The NIA has increased only by 26 per cent over this period. It is merely a half a per cent increase per annum whereas at all India level the increase is more than two fold compared over the 1950s. In TN, if we take the decade 1970s as a mid point, then one can observe that from the 1950s to the 1970s irrigation from all sources has marginally increased. After that except wells and tube wells category, a steady decline in all sources is noticed including the total NIA of the state. This decline is more intense in the case of minor irrigation (MI) ie, tanks and other sources than the canals. On the whole Table 3 indicates that the contribution of MI sources in TN is steadily declining.

Apart from the comparison between India and TN one can also view the extent of decline of tank irrigation in TN in relation to two other south Indian states such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka where tank irrigation is predominant even now. Here also we can compare the sources of irrigation between the states and India.

Table 1: Trends in Net Area Irrigated by Sources from 1950-51 to 1999-2000Table 1: Trends in Net Area Irrigated by Sources from 1950-51 to 1999-2000Table 1: Trends in Net Area Irrigated by Sources from 1950-51 to 1999-2000Table 1: Trends in Net Area Irrigated by Sources from 1950-51 to 1999-2000Table 1: Trends in Net Area Irrigated by Sources from 1950-51 to 1999-2000

(Area in lakh hectares)

Source 1950-51 to 1960-61 to 1970-71 to 1950-51 to 1980-81 to 1990-91 to 1980-81 to
1959-60 1969-70 1979-80 1979-80 1989-90 1999-2000 1999-2000
Per Cent Per Cent Per Cent Per Cent Per Cent Per Cent Per Cent
Area to NIA Area to NIA Area to NIA Area to NIA Area to NIA Area to NIA Area to NIA
Govt and private canals 91.9 41.2 111.9 41.9 137.7 40.1 113.8 40.9 163.1 38.3 173.4 32.7 168.3 35.2
Tanks 41.5 18.6 44.5 16.6 38.1 11.1 41.4 14.9 29.9 7.0 31.1 5.9 30.5 6.4
Wells+tubewells 66.3 29.8 87.1 32.6 144.1 41.9 99.2 35.7 207.8 48.7 292.5 55.2 250.1 52.3
Other sources 23.2 10.4 23.9 8.9 23.8 6.9 23.6 8.5 25.4 6.0 33.1 6.2 29.2 6.1
Total NIA 222.9 100.0 267.3 100.0 343.6 100.0 277.9 100.0 426.3 100.0 530.1 100.0 478.2 100.0
Tamil Nadu
Govt and private canals 8.0 37.6 8.8 35.6 8.9 33.2 8.6 35.3 8.2 33.0 8.3 29.3 8.3 31.0
Tanks (8.7) 7.8 36.8 (7.9) 9.1 36.8 (6.5) 8.5 31.5 (7.5) 8.5 34.8 (5.0) 6.2 24.7 (4.8) 6.3 22.4 (4.9) 6.3 23.4
(18.7) (20.5) (22.3) (20.5) (20.6) (20.4) (20.5)
Wells+tubewells 5.0 23.5 6.5 26.0 9.2 34.1 6.9 28.3 10.4 41.6 13.5 47.7 12.0 44.9
(7.5) (7.4) (6.4) (6.9) (5.0) (4.6) (4.8)
Other sources 0.5 2.2 0.4 1.6 0.4 1.3 0.4 1.6 0.2 0.8 0.2 0.6 0.2 0.7
Total NIA (2.0) 21.2 100.0 (1.6) 24.8 100.0 (1.5) 27.0 100.0 (1.7) 24.3 100.0 (0.7) 25.0 100.0 (0.5) 28.4 100.0 (0.6) 26.7 100.0
(9.5) (9.3) (7.8) (8.7) (5.9) (5.4) (5.6)

Note: Figures in brackets indicate sourcewise percentage compared to India.

Sources: Indian Agricultural Statistics, 1985-86 – 1989-90, Vol I, Ministry of Agriculture, GOI, New Delhi. CMIE, Agriculture, February 2004. Indian Agriculture in Brief 27th Edn, January 2000. GOTN, Tamil Nadu – An Economic Appraisal, 1992-93, Evaluation and Applied Research Department, Chennai. GOTN, Season and Crop Reports, Various Issues, Chennai.

Table 2 clearly brings out one point that both at all India level as well as across the three southern states the percentage of area under tanks has gradually declined. The decline is rapid in all the three states. More importantly there has been a marginal increase in the absolute area under ‘other’ category of MI sources both at all India level and across states except in TN. This implies that this source also needs to be developed extensively. It is also evident that TN is in a vulnerable position in terms of area irrigated by canals, tanks and other sources. Actually if we compare the progress of canal irrigation between TN and Karnataka from the early 1960s to the late 1990s the visible picture that one gets is that Karnataka’s canal irrigation has steadily progressed from 2.8 lakh ha. to 9.5 lakh ha (i e, more than three fold increase) whereas in TN it has actually declined from 8.9

lakh ha. to 8.4 lakh ha. So, Tables 3 and 4 show that TN’s position in relation to surface sources of irrigation especially under tanks is not encouraging.

Status of Small Water BodiesStatus of Small Water BodiesStatus of Small Water BodiesStatus of Small Water BodiesStatus of Small Water Bodies

Before going on to discuss the specific details of tanks in TN we have to obtain a clear picture of the contribution of tanks across states in India. Table 3 is constructed to serve this purpose. More than 99 per cent of NIA by tanks was concentrated only in 12 states of India and more than half is served only by the 4 southern states. This shows the importance of tank irrigation in the southern states. Further, the percentage of tank irrigated area to total NIA is between 10 and 22 per cent among the seven

Table 2: Net Area Irrigated by Soures in India and three Southern States, 1960-61 to 2000Table 2: Net Area Irrigated by Soures in India and three Southern States, 1960-61 to 2000Table 2: Net Area Irrigated by Soures in India and three Southern States, 1960-61 to 2000Table 2: Net Area Irrigated by Soures in India and three Southern States, 1960-61 to 2000Table 2: Net Area Irrigated by Soures in India and three Southern States, 1960-61 to 2000

(Area in ‘000 hecs)

India Per Cent AP Per Cent TN Per Cent Karnataka Per Cent 4+6+8 Col 4 Col 6 Col 8 Col 10
of NIA of NIA of NIA of NIA as Per Cent of ol Col 2
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Source 1997-98 to 1999-2000
Canals 17598 31.2 1602 37.3 847 28.4 950 38.5 3398 9.1 4.8 5.4 19.3
Tanks 3114 5.5 675 15.7 666 22.4 247 10.0 1587 21.7 21.4 7.9 51.0
Wells 32557 57.6 1824 42.5 1448 48.6 916 37.1 4188 5.6 4.4 2.8 12.9
Others 3223 5.7 188 4.4 18 0.6 355 14.4 562 5.8 0.6 11.0 17.4
NIA 56491 100.0 4289 100.0 2979 100.0 2468 100.0 9736 7.6 5.3 4.4 17.2
NSA* 141971 39.8 10478 40.9 5560 53.6 10274 24.0 26312 7.4 3.9 7.2 18.5
Source —————————————————> 1981-82 to 1985-86 <————————
Canals 16278 39.2 1783 49.1 840 33.0 657 41.5 3280 11.0 5.2 4.0 20.1
Tanks 3392 8.2 909 25.0 690 27.1 300 19.0 1899 26.8 20.3 8.8 56.0
Wells 19511 46.9 832 22.9 993 39.0 440 27.8 2265 4.3 5.1 2.3 11.6
Others 2376 5.7 108 3.0 21 0.8 186 11.7 315 4.5 0.9 7.8 13.3
NIA 41557 100.0 3632 100.0 2544 100.0 1583 100.0 7759 8.7 6.1 3.8 18.7
NSA* 141591 29.4 10941 33.2 5666 44.9 10415 15.2 27022 7.7 4.0 7.4 19.1
Source ——————————————————> 1960-61 to 1964-65 <———————
Canals 10791 42.3 1293 42.0 895 36.3 280 29.7 2468 12.0 8.3 2.6 22.9
Tanks 4668 18.3 1261 41.0 926 37.6 365 38.7 2552 27.0 19.8 7.8 54.7
Wells 7627 29.9 397 12.9 602 24.4 157 16.7 1156 5.2 7.9 2.1 15.2
Others 2454 9.6 127 4.1 43 1.7 140 14.9 310 5.2 1.8 5.7 12.6
NIA 25540 100.0 3075 100.0 2466 100.0 942 100.0 6483 12.0 9.7 3.7 25.4
NSA* 135908 18.8 11322 27.2 6039 40.8 10354 9.1 27715 8.3 4.4 7.6 20.4

Notes: AP = Andhra Pradesh. TN = Tamil Nadu. NSA * denotes NIA as per cent of NSA.

Sources: GOI, Indian Agricultural Statistics, Vols I & II, 1992-93, New Delhi, CMIE, Agriculture, February 2004. GOI, Indian Agriculture in Brief (27th Edition), Directorate of Economics and Statistics, New Delhi, 2000.

Table 3: Net Area Irrigated by Sources by Major States in India,Table 3: Net Area Irrigated by Sources by Major States in India,Table 3: Net Area Irrigated by Sources by Major States in India,Table 3: Net Area Irrigated by Sources by Major States in India,Table 3: Net Area Irrigated by Sources by Major States in India,
1997-98 to 1999-20001997-98 to 1999-20001997-98 to 1999-20001997-98 to 1999-20001997-98 to 1999-2000

(Area ‘000 ha)

Sl Name of State NSA Net Area Irrigated by Per Cent of No Canals Tanks Wells Other Total Total Per Cent of Col 8 to Col 5 to Sources 5+7 NIA Col 3 Col 9 Col 9 1 2 34 5 67 8 910 11 12

1 Andhra Pradesh 10478 1602 675 1824 188 863 4289 8.2 20.1 15.7 2 Tamil Nadu 5560 847 666 1448 18 684 2979 12.3 23.0 22.4 3 Maharashtra 17728 877 369 1799 89 458 3134 2.6 14.6 11.8 4 Orissa 6082 949 305 836 0 305 2090 5.0 14.6 14.6 5 West Bengal 5459 717 263 712 219 482 1911 8.8 25.2 13.8 6 Karnataka 10274 950 247 916 355 602 2468 5.9 24.4 10.0 7 Madhya Pradesh 15101 1513 184 3638 840 1025 6175 6.8 16.6 3.0 8 Rajasthan 16219 1567 118 3762 51 168 5497 1.0 3.1 2.1 9 Bihar 7426 1072 117 1794 641 758 3624 10.2 20.9 3.2 10 Uttar Pradesh 16778 3084 91 8919 259 350 12353 2.1 2.8 0.7 11 Kerala 2256 96 49 104 120 169 368 7.5 45.8 13.2 12 Gujarat 9672 617 28 2395 21 49 3061 0.5 1.6 0.9 13 Total of 12 states 123033 13889 3111 28147 2801 5913 47949 4.8 12.3 6.5

Per cent to Total NIA 29.0 58.7 5.8 14 India 141971 17598 3114 32557 3223 6336 56491 4.5 11.2 5.5

13/14 (per cent) 86.7 78.9 99.9 86.5 86.9 93.3 352

Source: CMIE, Agriculture, 2001, 2002 and 2004. GOI Indian Agriculture in Brief (27th Edition), Directorate of Eco and Statistics, New Delhi, 2000.

Economic and Political Weekly June 30, 2006 coastal states of India. This higher percentage share is mainly due to the locational advantage of the states, which facilitated to accommodate more number of smaller water bodies to hold the catchment run-off from both local as well as rivers.

Apart from tanks, ‘other sources’ of irrigation at all India level also assumes importance. Because this category serves more or less equal extent of area as that of tanks. But its contribution to NIA varies across states. In the northern states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh area under ‘other sources’ outnumbered the tanks. Table 3 indicates that both the ‘tanks’ and ‘other sources’ of irrigation should be given equal importance for better development of MI sources across states in the country.

Now let us specifically discuss the contribution of tanks in TN. A glance at Table 4 gives us the following points: In TN, 93 per cent of NIA by tanks and 84 per cent of total tanks are concentrated in 15 districts that are termed as Intensive Tank Irrigation (ITI) districts. Among these, NIA by tanks is more than 50 per cent in 5 districts. In the remaining 13 less tank intensive districts of the state, the NIA by tanks in each is less than 7000 ha and in all these districts the NIA by tanks to NSA is negligible between 0 and 5 per cent. Whereas in the ITI districts the same being relatively high and in two districts viz, Kancheepuram and Sivaganga, the percentage is more than 50.

In a few districts like Tiruchirapalli and Salem the mere existence of number of a large tanks did not induce an increase in the area under tank irrigation. In these two districts the average area irrigated per tank works out to 3 ha and 5 ha respectively and the state average being 13 ha. In contrast, the maximum NIA per tank is 38 ha in Kancheepuram followed by 32 ha in Ramanathapuram. It is evident that the Palar basin is the most tank intensive basin in TN followed by the Periyar-Vaigai basin. Most importantly, all the ITI districts do have some form of river flows but not any perennial river. Hence the contribution of tanks is moderate in those districts. Since the Cauvery canals serve better in a few districts where the contribution of tanks is negligible. As indicated in the case of coastal states (where tanks are more intense than the inland states) the districts that are located in the coastal region of TN also come in the same category. Where one can observe that all the ITI districts are located within the ambit of the coastal region.

On the whole the data on number of tanks in two size groups indicate that there are 39,366 tanks in TN. As indicated earlier, there is a serious doubt with respect to the total number of available tanks in TN. Because over a period of two decades more or less the same number of tanks are reported even though there have been wide fluctuations between the two categories of tanks. Hence, this should be verified and the actual hydraulic and other technical details need to be explored through census method. This can be initiated at least in a couple of tank intensive districts of the state.

It is well known that rainfall is the primary source for filling up of tanks, whether it is rainfed or river fed. Hence it is pertinent to look into this aspect of the relationship between rainfall and area under tank irrigation in TN over a period of 50 years. The rainfall data presented for 50-year period in Table 5 provides the following information. Over the five decades after independence, the decade 1960s is considered as the “golden period” of tank irrigation in terms of area irrigated by tanks. In this decade for seven years there was an increase in area under tank irrigation, which was more than 9 lakh hectares. During the decades of 1960s and 1990s, the decadal annual average rainfall is a maximum

Table 4: Districtwise Net Sown, Net Irrigated and Tank Irrigated Area in Tamil Nadu 2000-01 to 2002-03Table 4: Districtwise Net Sown, Net Irrigated and Tank Irrigated Area in Tamil Nadu 2000-01 to 2002-03Table 4: Districtwise Net Sown, Net Irrigated and Tank Irrigated Area in Tamil Nadu 2000-01 to 2002-03Table 4: Districtwise Net Sown, Net Irrigated and Tank Irrigated Area in Tamil Nadu 2000-01 to 2002-03Table 4: Districtwise Net Sown, Net Irrigated and Tank Irrigated Area in Tamil Nadu 2000-01 to 2002-03

(Area in hectares)

Sl Districts 2000-01 to 2002-03 Col 5/ Col 5/ No of Tanks Total Avg Name of
No NSA NIA by Col 4* Col 3* during 2000-03 NIA/ River Basin
All Sources Tanks 100 100 > 40 ha < 40 ha Tank
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
1 Ramanathapuram 181864 67077 54570 81.4 30.0 477 1217 1694 32.2 PV + Gundar
2 Sivagangai 111817 79544 64481 81.1 57.7 651 4260 4911 13.1 Manimuthar + PV
3 4 Pudukkottai Kancheepuram 144409 139219 91652 126138 63236 73137 69.0 58.0 43.8 52.5 660 709 4791 1233 5451 1942 11.6 37.7 Vellar + Cauvery Palar 4 2
5 Kanniyakumari 80492 28559 15492 54.2 19.2 41 2582 2623 5.9 Kodayar
6 7 Virudhunagar Thirunelveli 139483 139015 57826 95900 25419 39801 44.0 41.5 18.2 28.6 290 373 707 1797 997 2170 25.5 18.3 Vaippar + Gundar Tambraparani + Chittar 7
8 Thoothukudi 156338 35939 13449 37.4 8.6 107 527 634 21.2 Vaippar + Chittar
9 Thiruvallur 117796 91855 24903 27.1 21.1 780 906 1686 14.8 Ponnai + Cooum 1
10 Villupuram 310013 179631 36922 20.6 11.9 988 1097 2085 17.7 Ponnaiyar +Gadilam 3
11 Thiruvannamalai 201885 124811 24114 19.3 11.9 604 1361 1965 12.3 Cheyyar
12 13 Madurai Dharmapuri 135648 383679 80224 117991 15078 14358 18.8 12.2 11.1 3.7 292 216 1995 2131 2287 2347 6.6 6.1 Periyar-Vaigai (PV) Ponnaiyar + Chinnar 6
14 Vellore 195797 92866 8802 9.5 4.5 420 935 1355 6.5 Palar
15 16 Perambalur Theni 200477 109460 63045 56782 5932 5289 9.4 9.3 3.0 4.8 84 55 712 151 796 206 7.5 25.7 Cauvery Suruli + PV 5
17 Dindigul 227650 85413 7006 8.2 3.1 110 2120 2230 3.1 Kodavanar+Shanmukha
18 19 Tiruchirapalli Thanjavur 163308 191737 94408 162172 5042 6693 5.3 4.1 3.1 3.5 115 130 1652 298 1767 428 2.9 15.6 Cauvery Cauvery
20 Caddallore 222720 150272 5033 3.3 2.3 188 404 592 8.5 Cauvery + Vellar
21 Namakkal 176790 59405 1723 2.9 1.0 67 192 259 6.7 Vellar
22 Salem 243336 97646 2500 2.6 1.0 89 457 546 4.6 Vellar
23 Karur 91983 46273 1021 2.2 1.1 18 248 266 3.8 Kodavanar+Shanmukha 8
24 25 Coimbatore Erode 310202 281965 172733 148253 1720 163 1.0 0.1 0.6 0.1 44 21 33 31 77 52 22.3 3.1 Aliyar+Bhavani+Noyyal Bhavani+Noyyal
26 Thiruvarur 142903 137593 0 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0.0
27 28 Nagapatinum The Nilgiris 143824 78227 121259 877 0 0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0
Total 5022039 2666144 515884 19.3 10.3 7529 31837 39366 13.1
Source: GOTN Season and Crop Reports of Tamil Nadu, various Issues, Dept of Economics and Statistics, Chennai.
Economic and Political Weekly June 30, 2006 2859

of 940 mm, which is slightly more than the decades of 1950s and 1970s. However, the decade of 1980s recorded the lowest rainfall of 856 mm which was 86 mm less than in the decade of the 1990s. Even though the average rainfall during these two decades varied considerably the NIA by tanks between these two decades was more or less the same (which is 6.2 lakh ha). This indicates that over the period of 10 years rainfall is not an important constraint for area under irrigation especially under tanks. But the main point that should be probed in detail is to what extent and how efficiently the farmers make use of the available rainwater from the catchment, in both categories of system and non-system tanks, for crop production by way of effective maintenance of irrigation structures and management of available water from the tanks.

Comparing the decades 1980s and 1990s, a higher average rainfall was recorded in the latter decade, which happened to be the highest among all decades since the 1950s. In the same manner it is observed that the decade of the 1980s had the lowest average rainfall compared to any other decade since the 1950s. Compared to the decades of 1960s and 1970s, the NIA served by tanks during the 1980s and 1990s declined considerably. One can ascertain that the decline of extent in the 1980s was mainly due to poor rainfall over many years but it is not certain the decade of 1990s where the average rainfall is the maximum compared to any other decade. Over the past two decades not even a single year has shown tank irrigated area of over 9 lakh ha. since 1977. This implies that other than rainfall there are other factors, which hamper the growth and sustainability of tank irrigation in TN. The exact reasons for these could be traceable only through intensive field observations.

Table 5: Size Class and NIA by Tanks and Rainfall in Tamil Nadu:1950-51 to 2000-01Table 5: Size Class and NIA by Tanks and Rainfall in Tamil Nadu:1950-51 to 2000-01Table 5: Size Class and NIA by Tanks and Rainfall in Tamil Nadu:1950-51 to 2000-01Table 5: Size Class and NIA by Tanks and Rainfall in Tamil Nadu:1950-51 to 2000-01Table 5: Size Class and NIA by Tanks and Rainfall in Tamil Nadu:1950-51 to 2000-01

Sl Year Number of Tanks NIA Rainfall in MM Average No >40ha <40ha Total by Tanks June to October to January to June to 10 Years 5 Years September December May May 12 3 4 5 6 7 8 910 11 12

Normal Rainfall -> As per 2002-03 SCR ———> 329.5 468.1 166.5 964.1 Normal Rainfall -> 51 Years following data—> 321.0 446.2 150.5 917.8 1 1950-51 7525 15459 22984 545.4 283 350 215 847.5 2 1951-52 6435 17380 23815 635.7 335 325 158 817.5 3 1952-53 6793 18378 25171 617.8 198 368 183 747.5 4 1953-54 6652 18512 25164 795.5 390 405 263 1058.0 5 1954-55 6628 18613 25241 861.9 335 415 300 1049.8 904 6 1955-56 7276 17798 25074 794.4 340 420 96 855.8 7 1956-57 7327 20117 27444 884.3 395 450 153 997.8 8 1957-58 6994 21366 28360 847.4 330 500 230 1060.0 9 1958-59 7459 21013 28472 840.1 343 401 172 916.0 10 1959-60 6986 22612 29598 832.8 342 459 168 969.0 932 960 11 1960-61 7150 22753 29903 936.4 349 580 195 1124.0 12 1961-62 7030 27437 34467 939.5 371 309 187 867.0 13 1962-63 7220 27703 34923 946.2 325 395 212 932.0 14 1963-64 7562 29246 36808 914.9 315 506 87 908.0 15 1964-65 7842 28323 36165 892.2 347 406 106 859.0 938 16 1965-66 8611 26730 35341 902.5 315 441 115 871.0 17 1966-67 8183 28187 36370 965.8 416 606 139 1161.0 18 1967-68 8452 28180 36632 989.9 285 496 179 960.0 19 1968-69 8442 28193 36635 750.5 271 312 100 683.0 20 1969-70 8726 27019 35745 879.2 238 613 186 1037.0 940 942 21 1970-71 8544 27278 35822 897.9 318 420 180 918.0 22 1971-72 9358 28056 37414 923.5 323 489 147 959.0 23 1972-73 9286 27917 37203 949.5 304 608 79 991.0 24 1973-74 8093 29776 37869 928.5 333 407 102 842.0 25 1974-75 8427 29547 37974 593.9 326 178 143 647.0 871 26 1975-76 7386 30593 37979 749.8 420 340 97 857.0 27 1976-77 7412 30923 38335 800.0 314 440 187 941.0 28 1977-78 7480 31461 38941 909.9 333 682 109 1124.0 29 1978-79 7402 30795 38197 841.9 261 582 107 950.0 30 1979-80 7398 30896 38294 896.2 361 605 125 1091.0 932 993 31 1980-81 7399 30895 38294 590.2 196 337 136 669.0 32 1981-82 7408 30896 38304 738.4 406 453 97 956.0 33 1982-83 7116 30828 37944 516.6 217 352 94 663.0 34 1983-84 7125 30591 37716 807.1 399 484 340 1223.0 35 1984-85 7191 30438 37629 715.0 331 300 160 791.0 860 36 1985-86 7224 30421 37645 671.7 382 377 192 951.0 37 1986-87 7200 30749 37949 509.6 272 331 98 701.0 38 1987-88 7280 30949 38229 609.9 271 525 187 983.0 39 1988-89 7282 31067 38349 479.0 376 218 115 709.0 40 1989-90 7281 31202 38483 522.7 349 341 227 917.0 856 852 41 1990-91 7281 31202 38483 530.9 239 373 103 715.0 42 1991-92 7299 31453 38752 577.0 332 485 82 899.0 43 1992-93 7176 31687 38863 628.8 316 477 69 862.0 44 1993-94 7164 31678 38842 668.1 305 710 78 1093.0 45 1994-95 7169 31694 38863 674.3 224 479 231 933.8 901 46 1995-96 7423 31283 38706 512.3 348 248 68 663.7 47 1996-97 7476 31527 39003 623.5 455 541 125 1121.2 48 1997-98 7483 31520 39003 675.5 286 782 84 1152.2 49 1998-99 7522 31776 39298 689.7 340 602 138 1080.0 50 1999-00 10070 31878 41948 633.1 200 500 197 896.8 942 983 51 2000-01 7529 31837 39366 588.6 315 336 135 785.3

Source: GOTN, Season and Crop Reports, Various Issues, Department of Economics and Statistics.

Table 5 amply indicates that although rainfall is an important factor, which decides the extent of area brought under tank irrigation, there are several other factors (which may be termed as physical, technical and institutional), which stand in the way of progress of tank irrigation in the state. Hence, this is an important issue, which needs to be probed in detail through field surveys to find out exact reasons for the decline of area under tanks in TN.

Apart from tanks, in most of the villages in India there are other smaller types of water bodies available. They are generally referred to as Kulam, Kuttai, Kasam and Tangal. (other common types are known as Anicuts, Pickups, Bhandaras, Springs, small diversion networks and so on). If all these sources are filled up during the monsoon period it would help recharge the groundwater to a considerable extent. Apart from that, these sources will also serve several other local purposes.

Major Problems Reported in TankMajor Problems Reported in TankMajor Problems Reported in TankMajor Problems Reported in TankMajor Problems Reported in Tank
Irrigation StudiesIrrigation StudiesIrrigation StudiesIrrigation StudiesIrrigation Studies

Most of the available official statistics of tanks are inadequate, inconsistent and confusing. There is not even an authenticated count of the number of tanks and the actual extent of area irrigated by them [Vaidyanathan 2001]. For instance, most of the available regional field studies on tanks indicate that not much reduction was taken place in effective ayacut over time; some in fact reported an increase due to the conversion of adjacent rainfed lands into the ayacut. But the point is at the macro level, both all-India and TN, we cannot see the full extent of irrigated ayacut under tanks even when there is good rainfall. This is more so for the past two decades. This raises doubts about the way in which the irrigated area by tanks or other sources are recorded by the Village Administrative Officials. If the recorded/ reported data are correct then one can definitely say that siltation and reduced inflow into tanks significantly reduced the area actually irrigated by them [see also Sakthivadivel et al 2004].

For most of the system tanks and almost all non-system tanks practically no information is available about the quantum of water supply, its seasonal distribution and reliability, the extent to which they have changed and the factors which contributed to it. Our recent surveys of specific tanks in the Palar and Periyar-Vaigai Basins (for more details see Sivasubramaniyan 2000a; and Vaidyanathan 2001a) show the following results:

  • (1) All the selected (76) tanks are functioning and none is reported as defunct.
  • (2) Local community arrangements for tank management continue to function in a large majority of cases but with varying vitality.
  • (3) Where assured tank supply is available there the well density is less, which leads to active community participation for tank management in a majority of cases and vice versa.
  • Even though development of wells in the tank ayacut help the farmers to reap better crop and even increasing the cropping intensity but its lop-sided development affects community participation both for maintenance of irrigation structures and management of the tank system. The general notion is that well farmers are not cooperating with the non-well farmers in many occasions. This is mainly due to independent (well) water facility and the free power supply to pump water from the well. In order to bring the well farmers under organisational roof the following can be done:
  • (1) The non-cooperative well farmers should be excluded from using tank water in all periods (normal and scarcity).
  • (2) Land tax should be levied them double the normal tax of
  • tank farmers. Wells are primarily getting recharged through two ways:
  • (i) through rainfall and (ii) through surface sources of irrigation such as canals and tanks. This makes the point that development of well irrigation implies development of surface sources of irrigation. In other words, if canals and tanks are not effectively developed the well water supply will not be prosperous. This means that if huge investments on major and medium irrigation projects are made the indirect benefits are immediately realised by well farmers who are situated in the vicinity of these projects.
  • Critical Factors Affecting Tank ManagementCritical Factors Affecting Tank ManagementCritical Factors Affecting Tank ManagementCritical Factors Affecting Tank ManagementCritical Factors Affecting Tank Management

    Apart from the general notion, the three important sets of factors that affect the functioning of tank irrigation management are: Physical, Institutional and Technical. The Physical factors are: location and sources of supply; siltation and growth of weeds in the tank and in supply channels; encroachments in supply channels, foreshore area, tank beds and in the catchment area. If all these physical factors are in good condition then every tank can hold water to its full capacity.

    The institutional problems are more severe in recent decades, which cannot be overcome unless a strong organisational set up in each tank is made mandatory. The most important problematic factors of this category are: social (caste and class structure); economic (land holding pattern) and demographic (population pressure on land). Apart from this, the technical factors such as conditions of water supply; drainage conditions, soil quality, the spread of well irrigation in the ayacut also lead to problems in the effective functioning of institutions. Most importantly, all these factors do not act in isolation and there is strong inter-connection among them, which complicates the smooth functioning of institutions under tank irrigation all over the country (for a more detailed discussion on these aspects see Janakarajan 1993, and Sivasubramaniyan 1995).

    Policy Recommendations for ImprovementPolicy Recommendations for ImprovementPolicy Recommendations for ImprovementPolicy Recommendations for ImprovementPolicy Recommendations for Improvement
    and Restoration of Tanksand Restoration of Tanksand Restoration of Tanksand Restoration of Tanksand Restoration of Tanks

    Although in recent decades – especially after the 1960s- our country has not experienced any famine (severe shortage of food) but drought (temporary or a prolonged shortfall of rains) situations are prevailing in many parts of India. The latter phenomena happen mainly because of ‘climatic factors’ that are beyond human control. Even then, in some years, the country is receiving abundance of rainfall within a short span of time during the monsoon period and it is not properly utilised currently for beneficial purposes. This is one of the basic reasons for the declining trend in the area served by tanks. To make the tank irrigation system prosperous the following measures should be undertaken through the central/state governments and the beneficiaries also to be involved in the process effectively.

    First of all we need find out the possibilities of converting local ponds/kuttais into full-fledged tanks and also to identify the possibilities of converting non-system tanks into system tanks, which would enable to fully utilise the available surface water in a most beneficial manner. To survey the existence of all tanks and their present position in the state as well as in the country and a proper mapping of the tanks is a crucial need.

    The possibility of studying the effectiveness of tanks in terms of ground water banking is important. That is, the quantum withdrawal and quantum recharged in a given year or for a continuous period, say 10 years. In TN at present there are 15 ITI districts. For each district at least two high-powered bulldozers are to be given by the government and if they are directed and operated by the agricultural engineers, within three years we can restore the lost capacity or the original capacity of almost 90 per cent of the existing tanks in TN. The amount spent for this operation can be recovered through increased agricultural productivity within a short span of time.

    We can use the Geographic (Satellite) Imagery System (GIS) for this tank improvement programme effectively. Currently, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is the field leader in the GIS and India is one of the advanced countries, which has succeeded in using the system for developmental communication to reach rural poor. Further it is also possible to predict agricultural production by the remote sensing satellite. So, technology-wise our country is bright but the question is to what extent and how it is effectively utilised for the required purpose.

    The government should immediately initiate a detailed investigation of basic information for all tanks in Tamil Nadu as well as the country as a whole. Further, a periodic desiltation and strengthening of tank infrastructure should be undertaken as routine process. Also legislation should be enacted (for eviction of encroachers, punishing illegal water users, etc), legal measures tightened and powers given to local revenue and PWD authorities along with the local tank organisation to undertake maintenance and management of the tank system effectively. Care must be taken that these legal measures do not affect inter- departmental functions and these laws should actually help the authorities concerned to improve tank efficiency.

    In order to strengthen water use efficiency and improvements in tank performance the state agencies such as PWD and revenue authorities as well as the NGOs should be involved to focus their attention more on educating farmers to understand the necessity of conserving/improving tank water supply and its use in an effective manner and avoiding wastage of water at each stage (i e, at augmentation, storage and use).

    The government’s effort should be, wherever possible, to link the southern peninsular rivers first and then these should be interconnected to bigger tanks, which must be given priority in the planning process. The aim of interlinking of rivers (wherever possible) should be to stop flooding during the monsoon months and also to stop water reaching the Sea from all the rivers. What we need to do this is a conscious effort to explore and exploit this possibility. This naturally requires planners to view canals and tanks in a given region as complementary and not as separate entities. If it is done the following benefits can be availed:

  • (1) Flooding can be reduced considerably. (2) Severe drought situation can be averted. (3) Groundwater recharge could be increased. (4) Additional area would be brought under plough.
  • (5) Dry farming will be converted into wet farming that automatically enhances the productivity. (6) High fluctuations in foodgrains production could be averted. (7) This would increase the employment potential and also enhance the standard of living of poor farmers through increased income.

    In recent years most Indian states are increasingly facing water scarcity not only during drought years but also in normal rainfall years. Water disputes are frequently referred almost in all south Indian states. In Tamil Nadu all available surface (river) flows are mostly utilised and there is no scope for expansion of canal irrigation system. For the past five decades, the canal irrigated area in Tamil Nadu is stagnant which is around 8 lakh ha. Whereas in the neighboring state of Karnataka the same is being gradually and steadily increasing over the same period; and there is also bright scope for further expansion of this source in that state.


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    The Kerala river supplies to Tamil Nadu are also gradually dwindling due to want of water for power generation in Kerala. Next, groundwater utilisation in Tamil Nadu has also reached its limit. Most of the district aquifers are already marked in the dark region and there is no scope for further expansion of this source. So, in all counts expansion of irrigated agriculture in Tamil Nadu will be difficult. The same may also be the case for other states in the near future. At this juncture, the only solution that is apparently available is immediate revival of Small Water Bodies in all states.

    The necessity for expansion and revival of tank irrigation arises due to the following counts. Green revolution irrigated agriculture mostly depends its source of water from well irrigation. Water supply available from independent wells are much limited. Only supplemental wells located in the canal and tank commands provide adequate and reliable supply. Whenever canals/tanks do not get adequate supply, the wells located in the vicinity of the surface sources also get poor recharge and the independent wells get almost negligible recharge through poor rains. This clearly points out the necessity for the revival of tanks. Wherever tank irrigation systems are available, the well water recharge is appreciably more than the independent wells’ recharge through rainfall. Due to this fact, the right way to resolve our ever expanding water problem is to provide adequate attention to watershed development to conserve rainwater, revival of all types of smaller water bodies to recharge groundwater, optimal use of available supplies form the major and medium irrigation projects, involving the users at large through formation of water users’ associations to economic use of water and avoidance of waste. If all these practices are undertaken step by step by the states and encouragement as well as adequate resources are earmarked through Central Plan investments our future water problems will be solved.




    [This is substantially a revised version of the paper presented at the National Seminar on “Irrigation and Sustainable Water Management” organised by the Agro-Economic Research Centre, University of Madras from 31st August to 2nd September 2004. I am grateful to A Vaidyanathan and V K Natraj for their comments on the draft version of this paper. I also thank the seminar participants for their useful comments. The usual disclaimers apply.]

    1 The experiments, their achievements and the problems encountered in different parts of the world have been documented in papers presented at the “International Conference on Irrigation Management Transfer” (IIMI 1994); for a brief review of the conference proceedings see Vaidyanathan 1994b.


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    Vaidyanathan, A and K Sivasubramaniyan (2001): ‘Tank Irrigation in South India: An Overview’ in A Vaidyanathan (ed), Tanks of South India, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.

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