Faced with shortage of water for irrigation, Gujarat has decided to strengthen a cooperative model that could see farmers manage, levy charges and ensure proper distribution of the irrigation water released by the Narmada river damThe dam, managed by the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), is in Gujarat but three other states Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra—also benefit from the waters from the Narmada that are carried by an extensive network of canals. The Gujarat government, through a notification dated 2 June, has decided to form a 12-member committee for strengthening what officials call Participatory Irrigation Management or PIM, which will lay the foundations for a cooperative-like structure. The committee will be chaired by B.N. Navalawala, former secretary in ministry of water resources in the Central government and currently an adviser to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani.
While the concept of PIM is yet to become a success in India, Gujarat, which introduced a PIM Act in 2007, aims to have 4,467 ‘irrigation cooperatives’ up and running by 2020 under the Sardar Sarovar Project, an inter-state project being implemented by SSNNL.
Although called cooperatives colloquially, these are really Water Users Associations (WUAs). Till May 2018, SSNNL had registered 2,539 of these associations and handed over the management of about 1011 these to farmers’ cooperatives, according to official data. However, only about 55 WUAs formed under Sardar Sarovar Project were functional till May.
In a normal year, the Gujarat government supplies Narmada water for irrigation from July to March before the onset of the monsoon. There is no provision to provide Narmada water for irrigation during the summer— from April to June—however the government has been giving water in this period for the past few years due to good rainfall.
Some farmers group in the state have been protesting, accusing the government of mismanaging the Narmada waters. While Gujarat received adequate rainfall in 2017, less inflow of water from the upstream catchment area of the Narmada basin in Madhya Pradesh, which accounts for 97.5% of the total catchment area, has led to a situation where the water allocation to all four states has been reduced drastically this year The Gujarat government announced earlier this year that it won’t be able to provide irrigation water to farmers this summer. Experts feel the situation could have been better handled by farmers’ associations or cooperatives. They would run the entire system, appointing officials, distributing the water in an equitable way, maintaining canals and collecting charges—whereas currently, the farmer with the biggest farms get to corner most of the water and pilferage is rampant. “When farmers get ownership of irrigation, they will not try to misuse, overuse water or damage the resources. A farmer would not overuse water in Rabi season and instead save the water for summer by building storage infrastructure and improving water use efficiency,” said Apoorva Oza, CEO, Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, India, which works with SSNNL for establishing WUAs in Gujarat. One reason the WUAs have not been successful in many areas is that work on smaller canals is not complete yet, which means water is yet to reach many villages, said an industry expert who did not wish to be named.