LESSON 30. Case study in Tamilnadu


Farmers’ participation in irrigation management is not entirely new to India. There is considerable evidence that farmers in pre-independence years had been involved in irrigation management in different parts of the country. The phad system of Nasik and Dhule districts and the Malgujari tanks of Chandrapur and Bhandara districts in Maharashtra, the Ahar-Pyne system of Bihar, the Kuhl system of H.P. and the Kudimaramath of Tamilnadu are some of the important examples of PIM under traditional irrigation. Vestiges of these practices still survive though these have become quite weak or even extinct with the passage of time. A few formal water users associations were also formed from time to time like the Vadakku Kodai Melazhahian Channel Land Holders Association in Tamilnadu in December 1959, Malinagar Irrigators' Water Cooperative Society in Maharashtra in 1967, Vaishali Area Small Farmers Association in Bihar in 1971, Mohini Water Cooperative Society in Gujarat in 1978. These were, however, isolated examples which could be counted on fingers. Irrigation management from top to bottom remained concentrated in the hands of the government. It may be said that since 1972, after the establishment of CADA, a large number of farmer organisations at the outlet level were formed under the CAD projects. These were variously described as pipe committees, outlet committees and WUAs. These, however, lacked authority and responsibility and, therefore, could not serve any useful purpose. Many of these became non-functional after some time.

Farmers' participation in irrigation management continued to be non-existent or at most nominal in a limited number of projects. Water was and continues to be exploited, harnessed, conveyed, controlled, regulated and distributed by the government agencies. The agencies / departments by whatsoever name they are known in different states not only allocate and distribute water but collect fees and have also a say in crop pattern. In some states, however, the collection of water fees is assigned to a different department, viz., revenue.

30.1 Lower Bhavani Project – case study in Tamil Nadu

In Tamilnadu, management of irrigation system was the responsibility of Public Works Department (PWD). Besides irrigation canals, PWD also looked after tanks with command area exceeding 40 hectares, while Rural Development Department looked after irrigation from tanks having less command area. The command area development was the responsibility of a special wing of Agricultural Engineering Department (AED). The Command Area Development Programme sponsored by the Central and State Government were taken up in the command area of LBP from the year 1982-83 to 1998-99. Under the guidelines of the Central Government, the above was taken up by the Agricultural Engineering Department, Government of Tamil Nadu.
On Farm Development works like the lining of open field channels, laying of underground pipelines, construction of division box, diversion box, cart track crossing, inverted siphon, etc,. were taken up in each sluice level according to the requirements. The survey, preparation of estimates, execution of works were carried out by the Technical wing of the Agricultural Engg Dept. The entire programme was completed in the year 1998-99. The above works facilitates distribution network and infrastructure and regulate the water below sluice outlet.

The planning for construction of field channels was done by taking into the consideration of the needs of the head reach farmers so that their interference was eliminated by giving way to tail end farmers for irrigation water. This was the starting point for establishing equity in the entire sluice command. This has been achieved in all the project using the optimum flow block concept.

By adopting optimum flow concept the discharge allowed through the sluice was divided and distributed through the field channel dividing the whole sluice command into the different blocks and conveying the stream size (flow selected at the block level) through field channels. Rotation Water Supply (Warabhandi) Scheme also implemented in the Command area by way of preparing predetermined schedule specifying the day, time and duration of supply to each irrigation in proportion to holding in an outlet command. The one time functioning grant of Rs.450/-per hectare (Central Share Rs.225/-, state share Rs.225/-) was released to the farmers council on receipt of farmers contribution of Rs.50/- per hectare. The functional grant and farmers contribution were deposited in the Nationalised Banks in the name of Superintendent Engineer, Agricultural Engg. Department, and the President of the respective farmers council.

30.2 Keel Bhavani WUA - Lower Bhavani Project – case study

Keel Bhavani WUA was an important WUA in the Thindal distributary of Lower Bhavani Project which was one of the Command Area Development Projects operated by the Agricultural Engineering Department of Tamilnadu since 1982. The cultural command area of Lower Bhavani Project was 83,770 ha. During the year 1987- 88 the participation and involvement of farmers was given a thrust and the concept of farmers associations for each sluice was piloted. There were some initial troubles due to the reluctance of head reach farmers. But when the concept of equitable distribution was explained to them, their reluctance disappeared and they agreed to form associations. Another difficulty in organising the farmers for a "Group Action" was the prevailing internal conflicts arising out of sharing water and other social problems which are usually found in villages like inter group conflicts, social tension etc. Resolving these problems needed a different approach. The success came through the process of catalisation for which fresh Diploma Engineers in Civil Engineering were recruited trained and were posted as Irrigation Community Organisers. They stayed in villages and got themselves integrated with farmers. This brought the farmers together for group action in organising water management programmes. The complete strategy on water management was evolved in consultation with farmers giving full consideration to their views and suggestions. This helped in creating an awareness among farmers and a binding to the implementation of the strategy.

30.3 Salient features of Lower Bhavani Project- Normal Irrigation Season

Extent of Irrigation

a) 1st Turn 15th August to 15th December 96,734 ha

b) 2nd Turn 15th December to March 15th 94,406 ha

Irrigation was permitted through the authorised source only and during the period when water is allowed in the channel for irrigation to the registered command area (ayacut) fields within the permitted ayacut. In lower Bhavani, main canal distributaries were not lined.

30.4 Thindal Distributary

Thindal distributary of the Lower Bhavani Project was selected for the study, as this provided considerable experience for the purpose. It was one of the better managed associations. The distributary takes off at mileage 60-4-500 of Lower Bhavani Main canal traversing through Erode district. This distributary and its four branches irrigated 823.33 ha of land in the first turn and 841.67 ha of land in the 2nd turn in a particular year. The above canals were designed with a duty of 60 acres or 24.29 ha / cusec and regulated with a maximum discharge of 34 cusec at head sluice. The bed fall of canal was 60 cm for 1800 m (2 ft / mile) and in the Ayacut area 62 sluices were provided to control the flow of irrigation water in the fields.

Table 30.1 Details of the Thindal Distributary and its Branches


Length in km

Ayacut in ha.

Ist turn

2nd turn

Main Thindal Distributary








Moolak Karai



Vannan Kattu Valasu



Valli Purathani Palayam



Nanjana Puram



Total Command area





Water management was done with the help of Irrigation assistants (lashkars) under the direct supervision of Assistant Engineers. Normally paddy was grown in the 1st turn during August to December and dry irrigated crops such as groundnut or gingelly during January to April. Irrigation encountered certain problems as detailed below.

i. The canal system was extensively silted which caused a reduction in carrying capacity of canals and ultimately affected the tail end farmers.

ii. Embankment reaches had become weak and distressed and needed to be rehabilitated.

iii. Due to the non- modernisation of the canals and damaged structures, a loss of 20 to 30 percent of water took place through seepage.

iv. Due to the increased number of wells in the non Ayacut areas, water was recharged through canals, and thus there was loss of water in the registered ayacuts.

v. About 60 shutters had become old and worn out and a tight closure of sluice was becoming impossible. Irrigation Department was reported to be taking emergent steps to regulate water by repairing the shutters using the available funds.

vi. There was illegal tapping of water using hoses by farmers belonging to non- ayacut areas or belonging to non turn ayacuts. They either syphoned water from canals or connected the nearby wells with canals and thus indulged in unruly activities which ultimately caused shortage of water to the tail enders.

vii.When the people committing crimes were caught, political pressure or interference was resorted to and they escaped without getting penalised.

viii. It was also pointed out that farmers were not cooperating for turn-system during lean periods.

30.5 Formation of WUA

The structuring of the farmers organisation was conceived at three levels, namely Farmers Association at the sluice level, Farmers Council at the level of distributary with an area of command of 2000 ha and an Apex Council for the command area as a whole. In the process of forming farmers’ organisation, the farmers were consulted many times by the specially appointed Irrigation Community Organisers (ICO) who was posted in villages to work with farmers. The ICOs met the farmers many times as they could and in many cases became part of their every day life. The problems posed by farmers were identified and the Agricultural Engineering Department took up on farm development work for which estimates were prepared and rectifications were carried out. The ICOs were the moving force and their involvement motivated the farmers to form Farmers Organisation.

The formation of WUA was greatly facilitated by financial support in the form of managerial subsidy given by the government to the Farmers' Councils. This was a one time grant at the rate of Rs. 450 per ha of total irrigated land from the government (Rs. 225 each from the centre and Rs. 225 from the state). This was subject to farmers contributing Rs. 50 per ha. This amount was deposited in a nationalised bank under fixed deposit jointly in the names of Chief Engineer (Agricultural Engineering) and the Farmers Council. The interest amount accruing out of fixed deposit could only be drawn and utilised for the operation and maintenance of system below distributary level and for running of the Council.

The farmers' association named as Lower Bhavani Warabandi farmers’ council (Keel Bhavani Muraineer Pasana Vivaisgal Sabai) was registered on 11th May 1988. Memorandum of Understanding, however, could not be signed as yet since the entire Cauvery command of which Bhavani river was also a part was under river water dispute. Water charges continued to be levied and collected by Revenue Department and not by WUA. There were 1075 members in the Water Users Association. These belonged to the 28 villages coming under the command of the distributary. All the farmers having irrigation from the Thindal distributary had joined the association. 362 members were from Head, 298 from Middle and remaining 315 from the Tail end. Information on their socio-economic status is given below.

 Table30.2: Distribution of Farmers by Size Group of Holdings



Executive Committee

Upto 1 hectare

643 (59.8)


1-2 hectares

286 (26.6)


2-5 hectares

126 (11.7)

7 (36.8)

5 hectares and above

20 (1.9)

12 (63.2)





44 (88%) of the respondents accepted the new system because it would ensure adequate and timely supply of water. Nearly 100 percent of the respondents expected that it would save time and money in running after officials and that it would ensure equitable distribution of water. 92 percent stated that it would eliminate or minimise corruption. 60 percent of the respondents considered that it would ensure reasonable irrigation charges, proper maintenance of irrigation channels (62%) and 70 percent of the respondents considered that it would minimise or eliminate tension among water users (between head and tail end farmers). The responses were multiple.

30.6 Selection of Sample Households

In order to obtain data on functioning and impact of the WUA on the farming community, a household survey was conducted in the concerned villages. For this purpose 50 households were selected randomly of which 17 were from Head reach, 19 from Middle and 14 from Tail end. Information and impact of WUA, collected from these farmers is discussed below.

During field visits to the area, it was discovered that association of farmers whose lands were coming in the Ayacut had been found throughout the length of the main canal of Lower Bhavani Project. It was, therefore, with great difficulty that 12 farmers were contacted along the Thindal distributary whose lands were being irrigated by own source i.e. wells. These farmers informed that they too had to pay irrigation charges for the water drawn from their own wells as these came under the command area of the Thindal distributary. These wells were being charged from the seepage of water of the Thindal distributary. The 'with' and 'without' comparison in this case, therefore, is not very useful because farmers in the 'control' areas had no access to canal irrigation. Hence the difference between the two situations is not a difference of association alone but of technology also.

30.7 Functioning of WUA

For maintaining the OFD works and distributing irrigation water equitably among the farmers according to the Warabandi schedule, a three tier "Water Users Associations or Farmers' Associations were formed with the assistance of the Irrigation Community Organisers. All these reported to be performing their duties with full involvement and cooperation of farmers.

The three tier associations were as follows. i) Sluice Association, ii) Farmers' Council at the distributary level & iii) Apex Body or Farmers' Federation. 43 Farmers Councils and one Apex Body were formed and registered under Societies Registration Act covering almost all reaches of the Lower Bhavani Project.

30.7.1 Sluice Committee

All the farmers of a sluice were members of the Association at the sluice level. Its day to day affairs were managed by a 8 member elected executive committee consisting of President, Vice President, Secretary, Joint Secretary Treasurer and three members representing one each from Head, Middle and Tail of the sluice command.

The main functions of the farmers associations at the sluice level were

i) to get proportionate discharge of water from the sluice head,

ii) to distribute water among member farmers equitably based on rotational supply schedule prepared by Irrigation Department,

iii) to maintain the system below the sluice in coordination with farmers and

iv) to help in amicable settlement of conflicts amongst farmers within the sluice command.

30.7.2 Farmers Council

All the farmers associations at the sluice levels formed Farmers Council at distributary level. One member each from the Sluice level farmers association preferably the President became a member of the executive committee of the Farmers Council. The executive committee of the Farmers Council consisted of President, Vice President, Secretary, Joint Secretary and Treasurer and one member each from the sluice committees. The area of operation of this Council was from distributary head to the sluices. It was the main responsibility of the Council to negotiate for the agreed quantum of water from Irrigation Department and to distribute the same up to sluice level in proportion to the respective command areas. The operation of the system below the distributary head and maintenance of the channels and structures was also the responsibility of the Council. Conflicts among farmers associations were solved by the Council.

30.7.3 Apex Body

All the Farmers Councils within the Lower Bhavani Project federated to form Apex body at the Project level. One representative from each Farmers' Council formed the executive committee of the Apex body. The entire project command was the area of operation of this supreme body. The main role of this body was to take policy decisions like date of release and closing of water, duration of supply, cropping pattern etc. in consultation with the government departments, to arrange visits and training of the farmers in improved water management techniques, functioning of associations etc. As can be seen from the above, WUA was not concerned with collection of water charges, this function continued to be performed by Revenue Department. Water release was a function of Irrigation Department. But the WUA interacted with ID for timely release of water in adequate quantity. Another function was to maintain field channels in good conditions.

30.8 Irrigation Charges

Irrigation charges were different for wet lands, and dry lands. Brief details are given below:

i. The basic assessment pertaining to wet fields was levied in accordance with quality (taram) and classification as notified in the re-settlement register, as follows :


Rate per Acre

Rate per hectare

For single crop wet lands

Rs. 15.00

Rs. 37.50

For compound double crop wet lands

Rs. 20.00

Rs. 49.40

Double crop wet lands

Rs. 22.50

Rs. 55.50

ii. There would be charge for the second and third crop raised in the lands classified as "double crop wet lands".

Rates for dry lands varied with respect to class of irrigation. For example, rates for first class irrigation were as below.

Sl. No.

Long term crops

Irrigation source

Rate per acre


Crop on ground for more than 10 (ten) months

I Class

Rs. 28.00


Crop on ground exceeding six months but within 10 months

— do —

Rs. 24.00

Rates were lower for II, III, IV and V class irrigation. For example, the respective figures for crops on ground exceeding 10 months were Rs. 21, Rs. 15, Rs. 12 and Rs. 9 respectively.

30.9 Training

USAID and World Bank emphasised the need for training the staff off line agencies involved in the distribution of irrigation water. In Tamilnadu, Irrigation Management Training Institute (IMTI) and Centre for Water Resources, Anna University were involved in water resource management and training. 11 Officers of Bhavani Basin Circle were also imparted training at Irrigation Management Training Institute (IMTI). Tiruchy. The subjects covered were :

i) Operation and maintenance of irrigation system under WRCP.

ii) Diagnostic and maintenance problem in distribution network using IUD.

iii) Application of computers in irrigation management level - 1

iv) Diagnostic analysis of an irrigation system.

v) Training programme on Amravati Irrigation command.

vi) Operation and maintenance of irrigation system.

vii) On farm water budgeting.

viii) Training programme on modern irrigation methods.

ix) Need based large irrigation training course.

Five (10%) of the respondents attended training programmes in water management. Training was conducted at Erode taluka town itself. It was conducted by the officials of Irrigation Department. All the five respondents stated that training benefited them. However, all of them felt that additional training was necessary. Subjects for training should include introduction of new technology in improved agricultural practices. They were also of the view that exposure visits to some of the successful experiments in the state as well as outside the state be arranged by the government.

30.10 Water Management

25 (50%) of the respondents reported problems in water management. 24 (96%) of them mentioned about not getting adequate and timely supply of water while 3 (12%) stated that water charges were levied on irrigation done by own wells also. 24 (96%) mentioned about structures not being properly maintained. Regarding suggestions for improvement, all the respondents underlined the importance of timely release of water and proper repair and maintenance of structures. 46 (92%) of the respondents reported that there was water loss in the distributaries during the last three years. 31 (67.4%) attributed this to non provision of gauge measuring device in the distributaries, 45 (97.8%) to siltation and damaged structures, 25 (54.3%) to paucity of water in sub-distributaries, 16 (34.8%) to unauthorised outlets in some of distributaries. The responses were multiple.

30.11 Impact of the Programme - (A) Before and After Approach

30.11.1 Area Irrigated

Information on number of respondents availing of irrigation facilities and crop area irrigated per respondent for both before and after periods is given in the Table 30.3.

Table 30.3: Average Irrigated Area (in ha) in Thindal Distributary per Respondent.


Before 1987-88

 After 1996-97


No. reported

Average irrigated area

No. Reported

Average irrigated area





2.29 (23.75)





1.90 (17.28)





1.39 (3.73)



1.75 —

Total per respondent




4.85 (25.97)

Figs. in brackets are indices of growth

It can be seen from the above table that all the respondents were practising irrigated farming in both the periods. But the area under irrigation registered an increase in Thindal distributary. The average area irrigated for paddy crop was 1.85 ha per respondent before the formation of WUA in 1987-88. It increased to 2.29 ha in 1996-97. The increase in area was 23.75 percent. Similarly, for groundnut, the average area irrigated before was 1.62 ha which increased to 1.90 ha afterwards indicating an increase of 17.28 percent. The average area under gingelly was 1.34 ha (before) and 1.39 ha. (after) showing a modest increase of 3.73 percent. Taking all crops together, total area under irrigation which was 3.85 hectare per respondent 'before' increased to 4.85 hectares 'after' registering a growth of 25.97 percent. Increase in irrigation was reported by 25 respondents. The area increased from 88.4 hectares before the formation of WUA in Thindal distributary to 179.00 hectares. For the remaining 25 respondents there was no change over the period

30.11.2 Quality of Irrigation

Regarding quality of irrigation, 17 (34%) respondents reported that they were getting adequate quantity of water for irrigation before (1987-88). This number increased to 36 (72%) during (1996-97). Regarding timely supply of water, 31 (62%) reported that they were getting timely water before. During 1996-97 the number reporting timely supply increased to 36 (22%). The main reason for this increase was attributed to formation of WUA.

 30.11.3 Yield of Crops

There was an increase in per hectare yield of crops grown during the two periods as can be seen from the table below.

Table30.4: Average Yield of Major Crops (Quintls. per hectare)






50.5 (20.58)



21.9 (2.34)



6.7 (42.55)



Figs. in brackets the indices of growth

30.11.4 Value of Produce

The value of produce per respondent was calculated at constant prices prevailing during 1996-97. The details are given as under

Table30.5: Value of Produce per Respondent (Rs.) (at constant prices)





No. Reported

Average value of produce

No. Reported

Average value of produce





46134 (48.72)





35079 (20.39)





9042 (46.62)



3700 –

Total per respondent 




83564 (38.88)

Figs. in bracket are indices of growth.

Value of produce per respondent increased during the period. Value of paddy increased from Rs. 31020 before to Rs. 46135 after i.e. a growth of 48.72 percent. For groundnut it was a growth of 20.39 percent, for gingelly a growth of 46.62 percent and for all commodities a growth of 38.88 percent. This was the result of increase in area as well as yield as already explained.

30.11.5 Introduction of New Crops

After the formation of WUA in Thindal distributary four selected respondents also started growing turmeric in their field. There was increase in yield per hectare in almost all the crops grown by the selected farmers. The details of the yield per hectare are in Table 31.6. The yield per hectare registered a growth of 50 percent in paddy over the two periods groundnut registered an increase of 28.49 percent, tobacco registered a growth of 18.10 percent. The increase in case of sorgham was 13.76 percent, for gingelly it was 33.33 percent, turmeric registered an increase of 29.86 percent. In case of cotton it was 19.70 percent.

Table30.6: Yield of Major Crops (Quntls./per ha.)






30.00 (50.00)



23.9 (28.49)



13.7 (18.10)



12.4 (13.76)



8.0 (33.33)



18.7 (29.86)



15.8 (19.70)

Figs. in brackets are indices of growth.

 The value of produce per respondent was calculated at constant prices prevailing during 1996-97. The details are as under.

Table30.7: Average Value of Produce per Respondent (Rs.) (at constant prices)





No. reported

Average value of produce

No. Reported

Average value of produce





8100 (50.00)





19868 (28.13)





22600 (17.91)





10937 (14.08)





784 (33.33)





22500 (30.43)





12000 (20.0)

Total per respondent




26376 (24.18)

Figures in bracket are indices of growth.

Value of produce per respondent increased during the period for all the crops. The increase ranged between 14.08 for Sorgham to 50.00 for Paddy. The increase was as a result of better use of inputs and judicious use of water as it was from own source. Even then the average value of produce from all crops at Rs. 26376 was much lower than that of Rs.83564 for the beneficiary households of WUA.

 30.11.6 Awareness

All the 12 respondents were aware of the FPIM in their area. All of them had stated that WUAs have been formed in the entire Lower Bhawani Area. All of them were willing to join the WUA provided they started getting water from the distributaries by raising the water level in, distributaries. All the 12 respondents stated that there was water loss in distributaries Silting, damaged structures and seepage were the main reasons cited for the water loss.

In this World Bank Project, Irrigation Community Organiser (ICO) engaged by Irrigation Department on part time basis played an active role in motivating farmers to go for participatory irrigation management. The experiment resulted in about 26 percent increase in irrigated area for the selected respondents and yield of main crop paddy increased by about 21 percent after formation of farmers' association. Farmers took active interest in maintenance of field channels below distributary level out of the returns on one time grant of Rs.450 / ha provided by Irrigation Department along with farmers' contribution at the rate of Rs. 50/- per ha. The repairs to field channels resulted in better irrigation under close supervision of the farmers' association.

Now, Public Works Department also releases grant to farmers’ council as a maintenance grant at the rate of Rs.100/- per hectare per year. This also supplements the fund position of the farmers council to a certain extent. State government is now proposing general election to all the water user association through Revenue Department. On completion of general election, the process of handing over the Operation and Maintenance to the Farmers council will take momentum. As interest rate is declining, the amount available for the maintenance also decreases, thus farmer councils are dire need of additional grant from the Govt. for the benefit of the farmers.

Last modified: Thursday, 20 February 2014, 4:58 AM