January 26, 2003

2003: Comment # 17

Is the establishment of Water User Associations enough to ensure high operational efficiency? Fieldwork by the IWMI-Tata team in Sardar Sarovar command seems to suggest otherwise...

Framing the Rules of the Game

Preparing for the first irrigation season in the Sardar Sarovar Project

Tushaar Shah

[Based on research by: IWMI-Tata Research Team]

The historic Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on the Narmada river is ready for 'running in' as the first 80,000 ha of its 1.8 million ha planned command area prepares for receiving irrigation. Mired in controversy, the SSP has planned for high operational efficiency with user participation. It has announced high user fees, registered more than 800 water user associations, and enjoined them to build their own distribution systems while the project has built 'pucca' (lined) canals up to each village service area.

The reality is however more complex. While WUAs' have been registered, few are actually functional and not many are prepared to collect water fees on behalf of SSP. None of the villages has built a distribution system; instead, thousands of diesel pumps are likely to get pressed into service to convey water through rubber pipes. All in all, rather than orderly water distribution and fee collection, SSP is likely to witness a chaotic free-for-all. Is this cause for great concern? Not necessarily, if SSP can improvise on the apparent chaos rather than insist.

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