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'Getting the Implementation Right'


‘Getting theImplementation Right’

Can the Proposed Watershed Guidelines Help?


ry land agriculture and watershed development have received policy attention during 1980s in the postindependence era. The main point of departure for the policy analysis presented here is the 1994 National Watersheds Guidelines,1 Hariyali guidelines of 2003, which are still the existing macro policy reference point and the proposed Neeranchal guidelines.2 In fact, that there are nine guidelines3 over a span of 30 years reflects the importance accorded to watershed development at the policy level. At the same time, it creates an impression that guidelines are the panacea for all ills of watershed development, including implementation. One positive feature of these changing guidelines is the flexibility with which policies are adopted and corrected in a dynamic and evolutionary processes where the basic approach set out in the guidelines has been adopted and extended in response to experience and emerging needs. Unfortunately, the pace at which these changes take place does not allow any time or space for stabilising the implementation process.

Implementation Environment

The 1994 guidelines are viewed as a landmark in watershed development in India in many respects. These formalised participation from being a mere catch phrase through making the involvement of all sections of the community as a prerequisite. Almost all the available studies have identified the process of implementation, low levels of participation and sustaining the tempo, as critical inputs for achieving the objectives. As far as implementation is concerned, despite the emphasis on participatory approaches in the 1994 guidelines, only the NGOsimplemented watersheds have done better, as they follow an intensive approach when compared to the government (line departments)-implemented ones. Of course, among the NGOs there are variations, due to proliferation of NGOs in the post-1994 scenario due to the scaling up of the programme, especially in states like Andhra Pradesh. At the same time, one can find some better implementation in the government watershed programmes. Effectively, the performance of the watershed development programme is satisfactory only in 15-20 per cent. This scenario is no different from that of the pre-1994 guidelines. The crux of the issue, therefore, rests in better implementation rather than changes in the organisational structure of the programme.

Unless guidelines ensure better implementation, there is no benefit in adding new guidelines. A comparative assessment of the three existing watershed guidelines in an attempt to assess the merits of the proposed Neeranchal guidelines will help clarify this proposition further.

In a special issue of EPW (Restructuring Watershed Development Programmes, Vol XLI, Nos 27 and 28, July 8-15) the authors have emphasised the positive aspects of the proposed Neeranchal Guidelines and the proposed national authority for sustainable development of rainfed areas (NASDORA), but failed to critically examine the need for the proposed guidelines and the relevance of NASDORA in its present form.

Our objective here is to examine the likely contribution of the proposed guidelines towards improving the implementation of the programme in the light of the past experience and highlight the missing aspects in the proposed NASDORA.

Relevance of NASDORA

A closer look at the three guidelines does not really indicate any major deviations in the content and spirit of the programme (Table 1). There are six major changes in the proposed guidelines, viz,

(i) creation of NASDORA; (ii) enlarging the size of the watershed and making the micro watersheds part of a milli watershed (4-10 thousand ha); (iii) adding a livelihood component with financial allocations and making it a comprehensive rural development programme; (iv) increasing the duration of the programme from five to eight years; (v) special provision for women and weaker sections by providing 50 per cent and 33 per cent quota respectively in the village watershed committee (VWC) and also the creation of women watershed councils; and (vi) doubling the financial allocation, i e, from Rs 6,000 to Rs 12,000 per hectare.

The creation of an apex body, NASDORA is a step in the direction of consolidating and re-emphasising the importance of rainfed areas. However, it has a narrow mandate of managing primarily central government-funded watershed programmes with overarching goals of ensuring access to drinking water and sustainable livelihood to the local population [GoI 2006, p 113]. Certainly watershed development is not a panacea for the problems of rainfed farming. Watershed development is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition to address the problems of these areas [Reddy et al 2004]. Therefore, one expects a much broader mandate for the NASDORA and watershed could have been made a subcomponent under its purview.

Even for addressing the livelihood issues, the need for departmental integration, which is being talked about for more than a decade, is a precondition for making watershed development central in the context of overall rural development. This integration should take place from top to bottom. Sustainable resource management or ecological balance can be attempted only if there is coordination between land, water, forests and people. Presently each

Economic and Political Weekly October 7, 2006

one is dealt with by a separate ministry with numerous departments dealing with sub-sectors, while ideally all should be under one administrative unit. Moreover, sustainable resource management would be meaningful at the river basin level with an integrated river basin approach. Integration of water bodies like tanks with watershed development is vital for integrated resource management in the rainfed areas. Presently, tank rehabilitation and the watershed programme are carried out separately and simultaneously. Watershed development could obstruct water flows into the downstream tanks, at least in the short run, making tank renovation redundant. Similarly, tank renovation in the absence of watershed treatment in the catchment areas may be ineffective due to high rates of silting.

The report also talks about making these bodies professional. But most of the managers are expected to come from the line departments on deputation. The evidence of the performance of these professionals from line departments as project implementation agents (PIAs) in the ongoing watersheds questions the kind of professionalism they can bring in. This is not a new approach. The Karnataka Dryland Development Board had done this experiment with mixed results. The possibility of attracting professionals from NGOs is constrained by the availability of good NGOs. And then attracting from market is more complex given the salary structures in the corporate sector. The experience of the district poverty initiatives programme (DPIP) in Andhra Pradesh, where such an approach is followed, is not encouraging even in the absence of any subsidy involved.4 In the end, implementation of the programme depends critically on the government bureaucrats and the NGOs. The 80:20 syndrome perpetuates.

While the creation of milli watersheds makes ecological sense, it not only complicates the administrative process, but also militates against participatory philosophy. One of the main reasons for adopting micro watersheds of 500 hectares is for facilitating participation, which is a prerequisite for watershed development. Lack of participation was one of the bottlenecks in the case of earlier watershed programmes, which were bigger in size cutting across a number of village boundaries. Even in small watersheds a number of conflicts arise in the process of prioritising the works, nature of works, etc. These conflicts often result in the dilution of technical guidelines of works. In the case of milli watersheds, coordination of about 20 VWCs is required in dealing with the upstream-downstream externalities and ridge to valley treatment. The inter-village coordination problems are observed in the case of water user associations in Andhra Pradesh for similar reasons [Reddy and Reddy 2005]. The absence of property rights in common resources like water and grazing lands may aggravate the inter-village conflicts.

Livelihood Dimension

The proposed guidelines institutionalised the livelihood dimension by allowing 20 per cent financial allocations for the livelihood component. Livelihood is already a part of watershed development in watershed plus or livelihood approaches that are being adopted in number of states like Andhra Pradesh and Orissa where the department for international development (DFID)-funded livelihood programmes are linked to watershed development. Our discussions with the district level officials have revealed that this would dilute the main purpose of the watershed development, i e, soil and water conservation. They argue that while there are numerous programmes addressing poverty and livelihood, why add this to watershed as well. While the rationale for adding the livelihood approach in watershed development programme is to enhance the benefit flows and to spread the benefits, there could be a danger of overshadowing the basic programme and thus increasing the expectations from the programme. This, in turn, may pull down the ultimate monitoring and evaluation ratings of the programme.

But, the larger question is whether adding the livelihood component alone could ensure sustainable livelihoods. Watershed development per se can result in substantial gains in widespread livelihood improvements only in the regions where there would be significant improvement in water availability and irrigated agriculture. This is possible in the regions where the average annual rainfall is above 700 mm [Deshpande and Reddy 1991; Joshi, et al, 2005]. Even in these regions, the spread of benefits would be limited unless resource management strategies are followed. Managing water resources is crucial for improving land and water productivities. Most of the proposed livelihood components such as lift irrigation, livestock, agroprocessing, etc, in phase III are linked to water. Unless water resources are managed judiciously and equitably, the spread of livelihood benefits will be limited, as most of these regions are dependent on groundwater irrigation. On the contrary, the improved economic returns to water may further aggravate the inequities in access to water. Though the report reviews the equity issues associated with groundwater (Chapter 2) it is silent on the strategies to bring in equity. The equity safeguards provided in the guidelines are neither new nor effective in practice [Vaidyanathan 2006]. The continued supply-side focus of the policies in the absence of demand management and clearly defined property rights in common resources would perpetuate the inequities.

Water: A Public Property

One issue raised at a policy level is the need to ensure better access to the benefits of watershed development for landless and land-poor people by “de-linking” access to water from land ownership: in other words, to treat water as a public good to which all sections of the community have equal rights and entitlements. This calls for a change in the existing structure of property rights and bringing groundwater under the common property management regime. The formal water user associations that are in place in number of states would come in hand in addressing this issue. That is, groundwater should be brought under the purview of water user associations. To achieve this may require primary legislation. It certainly requires clear property rights fostered on an institutional basis at the community level through which these rights could be translated into access to water resources.

The duration of the programme is increased to eight years, which is a necessity in the case of watershed development due to its long gestation period. Importantly, the initial community mobilisation phase is increased to two years from the existing one year. Though this gives more time for establishing the required participatory process, there is no provision in the guidelines as to how this is to be strictly followed, except for monitoring and evaluation. Experience shows that in a majority of the cases the preparatory phase was limited to three months instead of 12 months. Most of the PIAs blame the administrative process, which takes more time for release of funds. On the other hand, established NGOs are comfortable, as they have been working with the communities prior to the advent of the programme and hence they do not require more time to

Economic and Political Weekly October 7, 2006 develop roots [Reddy et al, 2005]. In the Rent-seeking has become a common blurring of the lines between inter-group case of GO-PIAs there is a need for strict phenomenonin the watershed programmes. conflicts based on economic divisions and monitoring during this phase in order to Mushrooming of NGOs in states like those based on political differences… In make sure that social development gets Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Madhya effect, the means by which watershed propriority in the process of implementation. Pradesh was attributed to the significant grammes have been permitted to operate

cash flows in watershed programme. In a has assisted this percolation of money Financial Requirements detailed study on pro-poor policies and politics down to the base of political

watershed development, the nexus between pyramid”. This was the situation when

One of the most serious concerns, in our politicians, PIAs and contractors was funding was Rs 30 lakh per watershed. One view, is the enhancement of allocation brought out clearly [Reddy and Jenkins can imagine the plight with Rs 60 lakh per from Rs 6,000 to Rs 12,000 per hectare. 2006]. The study concludes: … “there is watershed.

Table 1: Summary of Ministry of Rural Development (MRD) Watershed Treatment Guidelines

Item MRD Guidelines (1994) Hariyali Guidelines (2004) Proposed Neeranchal Guidelines (2006)
Objectives Economic development through regeneration of Stressing the physical nature of the WSD Providing sustainable rural livelihoods through overall
natural resources in drought-prone areas. and the central role of the gram panchayats development centred around watershed development
Integrated treatment of both non-arable and in overall economic development. (harnessing, conserving and developing natural
arable lands on watershed basis. resources i e, land, water and biomass).
Selection of Where people’s participation and voluntary Same as 1994 Guidelines Same. Plus: Positive history of women’s agency and
watersheds contributions are forthcoming. The area should Contiguity with existing watersheds is community action.
have an acute shortage of drinking water, favoured (and is one of the criteria used for Micro watershed will be a part of the milli watershed
preponderance of SC/ST population and watershed selection) (4-10 thousand ha) identified by the district watershed
wastelands. Only MWs of 500 ha each are management team.
selected. In case of more than one MW in a
block, these need not be contiguous.
Institutional MRD Same NASDORA (supported by apex stakeholders council/
arrangement governing board)
(a) National
(b) State Review committee under the chairmanship of Same State level governing board
the chief secretary.
(b) District DRDA/DPAP. A district watershed advisory Zilla panchayat (ZP) or DRDA/DPAP District watershed development agency. Supported by
committee which offer guidance on issues of dist panchayat (ZP).
implementation, including PIA selection
(c) Watershed GO or NGO can be selected as the project- Gram panchayat and NGO in the case of The village watershed committee (VWC) (elected body)
implementing agency at the watershed level. requirement. will implement the watershed, supported by milli
A multidisciplinary watershed development team Gram sabha will act as watershed watershed council, watershed development team, gram
to assist the PIA. association. sabha and women’s watershed councils.
Watershed association, which shall be a Watershed committee is discontinued. A VWC would have maximum 20 members – 50 per cent
registered body. This will be supported by a multidisciplinary watershed development women and 33 per cent SC/ST; and representation from
watershed committee (elected body) with team to assist the PIA directly. SHGs, user groups (UGs), GP and WDT. The VWC
representatives from self-help groups (SHG), would function as a subcommittee of the gram panchayat.
user groups (UG), women, GP and WDT, etc.
Funding Rs 4,000-4,500 per hectare at DRDA level Rs 6,000 per hectare (from 2001 onwards) Rs 12,000 per hectare at DRDA/ZP level
Pattern watershed works: 80 per cent at DRDA/ZP level. Watershed works: 80 per cent
Social and human development: 10 per cent Watershed works: 85 per cent Social and human development: 8 per cent
Administrative overheads: 10 per cent Social and human development: 5 per cent Impact assessment: 2 per cent
Administrative overheads: 10 per cent Administrative overheads: 10 per cent
Flow of funds GoI, MRD to DRDA-PIA Same NASDORA - State Boards - DWDA- VWC
Cost sharing Compulsory, 5 per cent in respect of CPR and 10 Same Same
per cent in respect of private lands of general
category and 5 per cent for the SC/ST.
Time period Four years Five years (increased in 2001) Eight years (2+4+2)
Role of NGOs Can be one of the implementing agencies for a Limited to group formation and social Importance of NGOs is recognised and restored to pre
group of 10 or 12 MWS mobilisation. PIA where GP and/or ZP Hariyali level.
capacity is not adequate
Watershed Concerned WDT to take care with the help of the Same Operation rules of the fund should be prepared by VWC
development watershed committee. To support this activity, and ratified by the gram sabha. 50 per cent of the fund
fund watershed development fund is to be created should go toward maintenance of common assets.
and cost contributions will go to this fund. No Remaining should be used as revolving fund for giving
operational rules were prepared. loans to the villages, who have contributed.
Gender This question is addressed in the guidelines but Same Gender quota of 50 per cent in VWC is introduced.
strategy has not been spelt out clearly Separate women watershed committee is introduced to
support VWC.
Equity This question has been addressed by giving user Same Livelihood component is added for the benefit of poor.
rights for poor and SC/ST in the CPRs. But no But no specific strategies for sharing the common
strategy is defined or suggested. resources like water.

Sources: GoI (1994), GoI (2003); GoI (2006).

Economic and Political Weekly October 7, 2006

However, this is not to argue that the financial requirements are any less in the rainfed regions. In fact, we argue against the planned increase in user contribution in the watershed programmes as proposed in the plan documents.5 The user contribution is expected to go up to 25 per cent during the 11th plan period, to 50 per cent during the 12th plan period and to 75 per cent during the 13th plan period. While this approach is embedded in the economic rationale of cost sharing, it fails in the plan objective of social justice and equity. For

(a) the magnitude of investments in watershed development programme (WDP) is much less (Rs 12,000 per hectare) when compared to providing canal irrigation (Rs 1-2 lakh per hectare); (b) the benefits from WDP are visualised only in the long run and uncertain in nature while the benefits from canal irrigation are immediate and dramatic. Despite substantial benefits the pricing of canal water is ridiculously low covering not even onethird of the operation and maintenance costs let alone capital costs. It is unfair to apply economic/market principles of higher contribution in the backward and poverty stricken regions while leaving developed and rich regions as spoiled kids of the benevolent state. While arguing against the enhanced cost recovery from WDP beneficiaries, it is necessary to ensure proper implementation of the programme and its sustainability. The guidelines should have introduced stringent procedures/ checks ensuring accountability and transparency. Social accounting and transparency should have been made mandatory using the recent right to information bill.

Other Policy Issues

Another significant policy issue is that a range of other policies like power, agriculture, water, etc, also influence watershed development. In some states, power pricing (which greatly influence irrigation levels), the guaranteed purchase of rice and changes in agricultural subsidies and other protection measures greatly influence the ways in which the benefits (and especially the extra water available) from watershed development are used. While some policies (like water pricing) strive to improve the economic efficiency of water, agricultural price policies indirectly promote inefficient water use practices. The case in point is the support price mechanism, especially for paddy, that encourages farmers to grow more paddy, which is highly water-intensive, through keeping paddy prices artificially high. This results in the excessive and inefficient use of water resources. More value addition could be achieved through the reallocation of water to other crops. This would also facilitate more equitable distribution of the resources. Similarly, in the case of groundwater the policy of subsidised power tariff structure for agriculture is resulting in the widespread degradation of the resources. These policies are set and administered by different branches of government than those responsible for watershed development, reflecting the problems that come from institutional fragmentation.

Therefore, pro-poor policies need to be more comprehensive in terms of resource or policy integration. Coordination, if not integration, between various departments that deal with natural resources is a precondition for drawing up appropriate policies. Unless the bottlenecks in effective implementation are identified and corrected, there is no rationale for adding more guidelines. One fails to understand how the proposed guidelines can ensure better implementation when the earlier two failed to do so. Instead of correcting the problems at the implementation level, new implementation structures are invented. As long as these structures have to operate in the same environment (socio-economic, political and policy), the expected outcomes will not be very different. Therefore, attempts should be made in the direction of changing the implementation environment. On the whole the proposed guidelines are neither comprehensive enough to tackle the complexities of rainfed agriculture nor deep enough to improve the implementation of the programme. Instead of adding to the list of guidelines, the focus should be shifted to implementation and governance issues.




[Thanks are due to C H Hanumantha Rao, R S Deshpande and M Gopinath Reddy for their comments on an earlier draft of this article. However, the ususal disclaimers apply.]

1 The 1994 guidelines were revised in August

2001. Changes such as increasing the time span

from four to five years are made to the 1994

guidelines. 2 The Parthsarathy Committee submitted its report

in January 2006, but the report is yet to be

approved and converted into guidelines. 3 These include the guidelines for (i) operations

research projects in mid-1980s; (ii) World Bank-aided projects 185-86; (iii) national watershed development programme (NWDP) 1986-88; (iv) national watershed development programme for rainfed agriculture (NWDPRA) 1989-90; (v) ministry of agriculture’s WARASA guidelines in early 1990 after modification by the committee of secretaries; (vi) ministry of rural development guidelines 1994. Revised in 2001; (vii) Hariyali Guidelines 2003; (viii) World Bank-DFID-GTZ guidelines; and (ix) the proposed Neeranchal guidelines.

4 Field experience revealed that the community coordinators hired from the market for the purpose of organising the self-help groups have got into the culture of commission agents, i e, demanding a cut from the groups whenever a loan is sanctioned.

5 The guidelines do not take cognisance of this while talking about user contribution.


Deshpande R S and V Ratna Reddy (1991): ‘Differential Impact of Watershed Based Technology: Some Analytical Issues’, Indian Journal of Agricultural Economics, 46(3): 261-69.

GoI (1994): Guidelines for Watershed Development, Ministry of Rural Development, New Delhi, October.

GoI (2001): Approach Paper to the Tenth Five-Year Plan (2002-07), Planning Commission, New Delhi, September.

GoI (2003): Watershed Guidelines (Hariyali), Ministry of Rural Development, New Delhi.

GoI (2006): From Hariyali to Neeranchal: Report of the Technical Committee on Watershed Programmes in India, Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, January.

Joshi, P K, A K Jha, S P Wani, L Joshi and R L Shiyani (2005): ‘Meta-Analysis to Assess Impact of Watershed Programme and People’s Participation’, Comprehensive Assessment Research Report No 8, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru 502 324, Andhra Pradesh.

Reddy V Ratna and P Prudhvikar Reddy (2005): ‘How Participatory Is Participatory Irrigation Management: A Study of Water User Associations in Andhra Pradesh’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XL, No 53, December 31.

Reddy V Ratna and Robert Jenkins (2006): ‘Decentralisation, Participatory Institutions and Elite Capture: A Case of Watershed Development Programme in Andhra Pradesh, India’, unpublished paper, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad.

Reddy, V R, M G Reddy, S Galab, J Soussan, and O S Baganski (2004): ‘Participatory Watershed Development in India: Can It Sustain Rural Livelihoods?’, Development and Change, 35(2): 297-326.

Reddy, V Ratna, U Hemantha Kumar, D Mohan Rao (2005): ‘Watershed Management for Sustainable Agriculture: Need for an Institutional Approach’, mimeo, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad.

Vaidyanathan, A (2006): ‘Restructuring Watershed Development Programmes’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLI, Nos 27 and 28, July 8-15.

Economic and Political Weekly October 7, 2006

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