Forging ties


Informing people
Water play
The facilitator
Water Gala

Faulty perceptions
Thirst rises, patience evaporates

Eviction ordered
Join the BIG fight
Citizens pick up cudgels
Solar lakes

South India: Searching for an identity
Thailand: Then came progress....


An eye opener
Naudihi’s revival
Tankas of Badi Ghodan


Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s system


Rice husk ash filter
Clay pot irrigation


Sachidanand Bharti
Madhu Bhatnagar


Naullahs of Kumaon


Kerala, building up its jalanidhi
Schemes or scams?


Saving lives
Rain associations


Drop by drop
Water scramble


Oxfam and water



100 promises, deadline 2006
The landmarks
Changing currents







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Vol. 5                                         No. 2                              April-May 2003

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On the crossroads

The age old community-based water management systems are on the crossroads. The present-day governments and aid agencies in their bid to ‘modernise’ these systems have in fact ruined them. Weathering this downward slide, these traditions still continue to hold a place of prominence. For instance, in Nepal and in the Philippines, about three-quarters and half of the irrigated land, respectively is still being managed by the traditional water managers. Will these systems survive or peter out in history?

The facilitators

Jal bhajan

This 60 minute audio has ten inspirational songs on traditional water systems of India. These compositions highlight the tradition, culture, significance of rain in our lives. ‘Yah hi vo dharti’, is one of the beautiful song — unfolding the pivotal role played by water in every aspect of human life.

The wise use
"I do not see the reason why you do not use what lies to hand. Before you try to dam our land. Your pipes cry out for renovation. Your storage tanks corrode. The valves are loose. The washers weak. I've seen the water gushing out from every reservoir and spout. Repair them it will cost far less than driving us to homelessness. But that's just one of many things.... Destroying beauty that once gone, the world will never look upon.

Vikram Seth, ‘The Elephant and the Ragopan’, 1991

S O U T H   I N D I A
Searching for an identity

The traditional practice of community-based water managers, known as Neerkatti in Tamil language, is under threat of extinction. Once considered as a respectable and a lucrative profession, has become unsustainable with the onslaught of modern practices.

About 1,000 neerkattis from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka got an opportunity to voice their concerns during a seminar held by Dhan Foundation (DF), a Madurai-based NGO, on March 10, 2003.

The tradition and its decay
Most of the neerkattis belong to lower castes and are appointed by the village community on a hereditary or an annual rotational basis. The number of neerkattis managing a tank varies from one to as many as 12 persons. It depends on the size of the tank and the supply channels. As remuneration, they receive one marakka ie five kg of grain per acre or equivalent cash. Before 1950s, their main responsibilities were: distribution of water on a rotational basis; managing sluice gates; and, maintenance works.

As the responsiblity of managing tanks has been passed on to the Public Works Department (PWD), the role of neerkatti is now been reduced to just opening and closing of sluices. Instead of maintaining the tank during non-monsoon season, they generally assist the village administrative officer in the departmental work. As farmers’ switched to well irrigation, tanks became insignificant.

The changing social structure at the village level has intensified this trend. The ownership of land has shifted from the upper to the lower castes. According to a study conducted by Sivasubramanian from Madras Institute of Development Studies, "Between 1850 and 1912 the land holding pattern of Kaveripakkam area, Chennai, changed completely". It is significant to note that the tank of this area is one of the biggest in Tamil Nadu - once irrigating more than 14 villages is in a degraded state, today.


Then came progress..

Muang faai, the 1,000 years old water management practice of northern Thailand is under threat. Thoughtless intervention by the Thai government has instigated a trend of corruption and inefficient management in this system.

To maintain muang faai irrigation system the cooperation and collective management by inhabitants of a single or many villages is crucial. Traditionally, the rules governed the water distribution pattern, dispute settlement, and the protection of catchment area. The principle that everyone gets enough water to survive was paramount. Contributions in labour were given preference. While a village-based committee was made formally responsible, the entire community, as proprietors of the system was expected to enforce the rules.

But as ‘progress’ arrived, all these rules were forgotten. Thai government armed with international aid, concrete and plans for a made over of agricultural system setting the clock backwards. Bamboo weirs were replaced with the concrete barrages. The rate of siltation increased manifold. Management was taken over by the Royal Irrigation Department. The behaviour of water, communities and economy changed. For instance, traditional crops grown in the valley region and dependent upon timely irrigation were abandoned as too risky investment. Modern varieties, suited to the centralised water regime, were promoted without giving a thought about its viability. As a result, today the communities has lost control over their ecology, culture and economy.

p6_1.jpg The voices
The Madurai convention gave neerkattis a platform to share their concerns and redefine their roles. In general, the participants felt that they were not adequately paid. Veeran, who has been working as a neerkatti for the past 12 years, from Kambur village, Madurai, said, "The village tank irrigates 60 acres of paddy. However, the remuneration fixed is kuzhikku naalu padi ie 6.5 kg per 60 cents (100 cents = 1 acre). Even this meager amount is not regularly paid." Another neerkatti from Thiruvarangai village, Ramanathapuram, Solomon felt that "The work involves more risk and is less assured as the tanks do not get regularly filled - just once in 3 or 5 years." Ganesan from Madaivini Patti, Madurai, who was facilitated by the former president K R Narayanan for his services as a neerkatti, share these concerns. "I get a very small amount. None of my five sons wants to become a neerkatti. I am doing it as a service to the community and god." Not many think like Ganesan. Why should they? Most of the neerkattis are experts in tank management - they are at par with any well-experienced irrigation engineer. R Sakthivadivel from International Water Management Institute, Sri Lanka, suggests, "The government should effectively include neerkattis in water users associations of tank renovation programs. It will save state crores of rupees while returning control back to where it actually belongs." Neerkattis are at the crossroad. Their survival depends on whether the state and society are ready to treat the issue from a fresh perspective or not.



Copyright 2003  Centre for Science and Environment