Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Aug 06, 2004
Agri-Biz & Commodities
Transferring rights to farmers vital to curb inefficiencies in Maharashtra
Mumbai , Aug. 5
GOING by records and claims, Maharashtra's 300-odd major, medium and minor irrigation projects have included 95.41 lakh acres under their command areas but more than 62 lakh acres of that do not get any water to their crops because of the huge inefficiencies in the system.
They remain project `beneficiaries' but irrigation eludes them; even with reservoirs full, their fate is that of rain-fed farmers.
This may end soon, if a three-year old concept of transferring rights to manage the irrigation system to farmers themselves comes into being, which was announced as policy back in mid-2001.
Conceptually, when farmers themselves collectively decide as to what share each of them should get, the inequity would dissolve.
That may led to a change in the cropping pattern enabling larger tracts, if not all, to get access to irrigation. The inefficiencies came about due to several reasons: The poor condition of the canals, the farmers in upper reaches grabbing whatever water they can to deviate with abandon from the set cropping patterns fixed when the projects were built.
But this participatory irrigation management is delayed for want of Rs 2,000 crore to de-silt and repair the canal before being handed over.
Each water users' association (WUA) would have control on up to 2,000 hectares; ultimately, over 10,000 WUAs would be needed though some NGO-inspired WUAs are already in business with official support covering 1.6 lakh hectares because "they are good pilot WUAs."
Even legislative backing is yet to be found to this intent to democratise water management, a must if multilateral agencies are to fund any irrigation project including repairs now to the system.
But a legislation that can give it the teeth was introduced in December in the Assembly but it is yet to be discussed though it was listed another six months later.
Officials hope they can persuade the Government to speed this up by an Ordinance soon. Officials concede that when these projects were built, the farmers within the command areas were not taken into confidence and told that if they misused the water supplied and switched to other crops, "everyone would lose."
But those, being in the head reaches of the canals could grab larger shares than actual entitlement did not heed it, developing a vested right they are unwilling to part with. None of them are known to have been effectively punished either.
Those who grabbed more became prosperous and acquired bigger clout.
This in turn, enabled the sabotage of the supervisory system of the canal water distribution and many field level functionaries began to actually hide the true extent of illegal irrigation by powerful farmers.
Which meant loss of revenue to the Government in unpaid water rates.
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