Reaching out
My river, my management


Andhra farmers try their hand at water management


CSE continues to educate the educators


MEASTro knows it all!
Cavern construction
What the world thinks of water


Chennai branch of NWHN: full steam ahead






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Vol. 1                                    No. 3                              August 1999

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Andhra Pradesh farmers try their hand at water management

In April 1997, the Andhra Pradesh government launched a massive Watershed Development Programme to transfer the management of irrigation schemes (rivers and tanks) to farmers’ organisations. Further, irrigation department officials, from the sub-engineer to the chief executive engineer, were to be gradually made accountable to water users.

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Water: controlled and managed by farmers of Andhra Pradesh

The programme established itself as a model for other similar transfer strategies. By June 1997, 10,292 Water Users’ Associations (WUAs) had been constituted. A WUA is the primary level in participatory irrigation management in Andhra Pradesh. The operational areas of a WUA is usually around 500 acres, though in some cases, it is can be as high as 3,000 to 8,000 acre. By November of that year, 174 Distributory Committees (DC) were formed. A DC is a federation of a certain number of WUAs. The entire programme has been so successful that the World Bank has termed it a model for the whole world!

What then is the reason for which the programme is not only `alive’ but `kicking’ as well!

There are several good reasons for the continued success of the programme. First, it has strong political and legal backing. The programme resulted from the passing of the Andhra Pradesh Farmers’ Management of Irrigation Systems Act (see box) in April 1997. This Act had been unanimously accepted by the state legislature (before which it had been extensively discussed at the district level).

Second, the Act ensures that irrigation officials are accountable to the water users. The job performance of assistant engineers is now partly evaluated by the WUA. As the transfer of power rolls on, deputy executive engineers are being made answerable to the DC. In due course, the executive engineers, formerly in charge of the entire irrigation scheme, will be made answerable to the Project Committee (PC), which consists of presidents of all the DC . One of the major reasons for earlier attempts failing was lack of accountability of officials to the farmers.

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The farmers in Andhra Pradesh
are using, controlling, repairing
and improvising on the public
irrigation system

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Unlike earlier programmes, full responsibility for carrying out maintenance and repair works lies with the water users. In fact, users are also permitted to modernise the system, though in accordance with standards and cost estimates given by the irrigation department. This has promoted a sense of ownership among the water users. As a result, WUA are shouldering increasing responsibility with enthusiasm. The WUA now execute 90% of the maintenance and repair works themselves. The irrigation department has responded to this development in a very positive manner. Private contractors have been forbidden from executing any works in the operational area of each WUA. To make the process of transfer of power foolproof, contractors undertaking any construction works in the operational area of a WUA have been forbidden from becoming members of the farmers’
organisations at any level.

Most importantly, the Act is quite comprehensive (see box). The water users as members of the farmers’ organisations at all three levels have been entrusted with the entire gamut of powers, rights and responsibilities associated with managing a public irrigation system. Important functions of the WUA include.

  • preparing and implementing a warabandi schedule (schedule of when and how much water each member of the WUA will get) for each irrigation system consistent with the operational plan prepared by the PC or the DC;
  • preparing a maintenance plan
  • regulating the use of water and economising it
  • assisting the revenue department in the collection of water charges
  • maintaining an inventory of the irrigation system
  • raising resources and maintaining accounts as prescribed
  • conducting general body meetings
  • resolving conflicts and punishing offenders.

The Act has made a bold attempt at transfer of power to the people and succeeded. What is heartening is that the state government is constantly reviewing the process and correcting any deficiencies. For instance, the Act in its original form did not disallow public servants from holding office in WUA/DC/PC. As a result, many political parties strengthened their rural base by appointing party members and sympathizers to the posts of president and chairperson. A study conducted by the National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS), New Delhi, concluded that public servants were abusing their power to gain undue access to water resources. The state government has added a clause where the public servants are now debarred from holding office in WUA/DC/PC.

The entire endeavor has changed the face of irrigation in the state. On the one hand, the role of the irrigation department has been transformed from that of a `facilitator’ to that of a `doer’. On the other hand, transfer of power has been so complete that the state government is now considering creating autonomous irrigation districts where users will not only run the irrigation system but also fund it entirely on their own, without dependence on the government. A radical transformation indeed!

The Andhra Pradesh Farmers’ Management of Irrigation Systems Act, 1997 enables:
  • creation of Water Users’ Associations (WUA) in all irrigation projects of the state;
  • gives water rights to WUA;
  • provides functional and administrative autonomy to WUA;
  • makes irrigation department staff accountable to the WUA, thus requiring   irrigation officials to implement the decisions of the WUA;
  • enables WUA to resolve conflicts themselves;
  • enables improvement of the irrigation system by the WUA on the basis of resources raised by the WUA, or, from grants given by the government as a percentage of water charges collected from the WUA;
  • gives WUA access to information on irrigation scheme operations;
  • permits preparation of the operational and the maintenance plans by the WUA;
  • provides freedom of cropping pattern to the farmers;
  • contains procedures and guidelines on accounting, social auditing, water budgeting, election procedures and other administrative functions.