ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Sustaining Lift Irrigation Systems

Self-reliance versus State Responsibility

Drawing insights from the management of lift irrigation systems–established prior to and in the early stage of decentralisation of governance in Elamkulam gram panchayat in Kerala—how water users and local self-government have not taken full responsibility for sustaining the systems despite irrigation management transfer and decentralisation campaigns to develop local initiatives is examined. Despite the differences in water users’ associations in terms of genesis and self-reliance, many are seeking state support for sustaining the systems. In obtaining state support, associations that are capable of adapting to new decentralised institutional arrangements appear better-positioned, compared to those that lack such capabilities.

Reducing the role of the state and transferring the rights and responsibilities of irrigation systems to water users have received much attention in literature in the recent years (Vermillion 1991; Brewer et al 1999; Suhardiman and Giordano 2014). Farmers’ participation in the management of irrigation system was advocated for in developing countries from the late 1960s, taking into account the fact that inadequate financing leads to ineffective management and system deterioration (Brewer et al 1999). From the 1970s to the early 1990s, the issue of irrigation system deterioration was sought to be addressed largely through foreign-funded irrigation rehabilitation projects, but by the 1990s, foreign funders began to show reluctance to continue funding irrigation system rehabilitation (Brewer et al 1999).

It is under this situation that in international policy discourses, farmers’ participation in the management of irrigation systems began to appear favourably and irrigation management transfer assumed unprecedented significance in policy discussions (Meinzen-Dick 1997; Vermillion 1997; Brewer et al 1999). The rationale for irrigation management transfer from the state to water users’ associations WUAs) included relieving the state of the financial burden for the maintenance of irrigation systems, possibility of raising additional revenues from water users, encouragement of user groups to take over maintenance and management of water allocation, and the collection of water cess (Meinzen-Dick 1997; Brewer et al 1999).

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Updated On : 18th Feb, 2019

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