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BOOK / DOCUMENT

Tanks of south India
  
   
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Vol. 3      

No. 5 

October   2001

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Glimpses of books

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Tanks of South India
edited by
A Vaidyanathan, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, 2001, pp 178, Rs 490

Tanks of South India is a book that attempts to look at ground level actual data to dispel myths regarding tanks.

Tanks were efficient traditional systems built to harness runoff and streamflows. Not only were these structures designed to capture every drop, communities that built them devised excellent management and institutional systems so that the resource - water - was equitably distributed and the structures maintained.

The advent of largescale storages and energised pumping systems overshadowed these tanks in recent decades. While the budget allocation to irrigation increased, the resources allocated towards maintaining the existing tanks and constructing new ones was but a small fraction. According to official estimates, there were 15.13 lakh tanks in India in 1986-87, 95 per cent of which were in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Silting and poor maintenance reduced the gross area irrigated by these tanks to 3.07 million hectares in 1985-86 from 4.78 million hectares in 1962-63, though many new tanks were constructed during that period. This amounts to a colossal loss of Rs 5,000 crore. Except where groundwater or canal water is available, a decline of tank systems has adversely affected several dispersed communities depending on these.

Several gaps exist in the information that is available on tanks and their management and usage. Most assumptions are not backed by actual data. What is the scale of the debilitation of these tanks? Just how much are communities affected? Are small, community-managed structures really superior, economically and ecologically?

On the basis of secondary data and an extensive survey of about 80 tanks, this book has made possible a fuller and more accurate picture of the current status of tank irrigation in south India. These surveyed tanks lie in the Periyar Vagai and Palar river basins. The survey revealed that though tanks are in various stages of decline as are tank management institutions, these tanks are still functioning and serving communities that manage them.

The collection of actual data make the conclusions drawn relevant. And disturbing. Tank irrigation programmes in recent decades have been inadequate in scale, misconceived in design, poor in implementation and dubious in impact. Irrigation development has been dominated by large surface and groundwater exploitation. There is no coherent overall strategy and well-defined priorities reflecting the relative potential of different types of tanks and different regions.

The book sets an agenda for future action on how these traditional water management systems can be revived and integrated with large irrigation systems for a more equitable and efficient use of water. It sends a message that one hopes will be heard: Experience has shown time and again that measures to improve land and water management introduced by state agencies have failed. It is time the government opened up and let the communities explore for themselves what they want.


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