|People's Participation in Managing Common Pool Natural Resources : Lessons of Success in India (IRMA, 1992, 26 p.)|
The Mohini Water Co-operative Society is one of the successful surface irrigation co-operatives in Gujarat State and the first of its kind in India (Mandalia and Charan, 1989, p. 288). The Society was registered in September 1978 under the Gujarat State Co-operative Societies Act, 1961 with a total membership of 145 and paid up share capital of Rs. 7,900. It is based in Mohini village of Choryasi taluka of Surat district in south Gujarat. It started its operations in April 1979 (Table 1). The origin of the Society is traced to the then Area Development Commissioner (ADC), Ukai-Kakrapar Irrigation Project, Surat, who proposed the idea of forming a water users' co-operative to a progressive farmer and social worker, Shri Bhikhubhai B. Patel. Shri Patel was then Sarpanch, Mohini village Panchayat, and Chairman, Service Co-operative Society, Mohini. He accepted the idea on the assurance of the ADC that the state government will provide a managerial subsidy for meeting the salary and other establishment costs of the Society and would also bear the operating losses, if any, in the first three years.
The area of operation of the Society extends to six villages all of which lie in the command area of the Bhestan minor of the Kakrapar Left Bank Canal system of the Ukai-Kakrapar Irrigation Project. The gross command area of the Society is about 525 ha and the culturable command area was about 487 ha in 1989-90. The total number of farmers in the command area of the Society was 231, all of whom were members of the Society in 1989-90. About 75% of the members were Patels and about 70% were marginal and small farmers.
Financially, the Society became an instant success, distributing a dividend of 12% from the second year onwards. It has been given the highest classification 'A' by the auditors of the Co-operative Department year after year since its inception except in 1989-90. It owns a tractor, which is leased to members on concessional rates for cultivation purposes. The Society has been regularly paying water charges to the Irrigation Department and till 1982-83, it was able to fully recover its water dues from its members. But since 1983-84, arrears of water charges have been mounting up and in 1989-90, a sum of Rs. 63,000 was outstanding against the members. In 1989-90, the Society incurred an operating loss of Rs. 62,680.
The staff of the Society are well paid by local wage standards. In accordance with the agreement with the Irrigation Department of Gujarat State, the Society is charged on a volumetric basis and the Society charges its members on crop area basis. The volumetric rate was fixed at 25 paise per 10,000 litres of water. In addition, a local cess of 5 paise per 10,000 litres of water purchased is also levied on the society. The Society charges the farmers at the same rates as fixed by the Irrigation Department. At the current rates, surplus is available only from sugarcane, and orchards. On other crops, the Society loses money. At the present water rates, the Society makes a profit only if the major proportion of its culturable command area is put under sugarcane. If the major proportion of area were under food grains, the society would make losses. The Mohini Society became a financial success because about 58 % of its culturable command area was put under sugarcane, instead of the prescribed 18%. In most Indian public irrigation systems, there is a prescribed cropping pattern based on the pattern estimated at the time the project was formulated. Though the design pattern should, in theory be respected, the actual pattern varies considerably. If the Mohini Co-operative had followed its prescribed cropping pattern, it would be in deficit. Any group or society which abided by the prescribed pattern would not be viable, since the surplus is too small to cover its salary and other administrative costs. The financial success of Mohini is primarily due to the sugarcane-biased crop pattern followed in its command area.
The experience of the Mohini Water Co-operative Society shows that the organisation of irrigators into a co-operative society helped them secure assured, adequate, and timely supplies of irrigation water from a public canal system which under the government management was not dependable and was not meeting their water requirements fully and in time. Assured, adequate, and timely supplies of water resulted in increased crop yields and income and thereby improved the economic condition of the members. Wastage of valuable water through over-irrigation under the conditions of uncertain and irregular supplies in the pre-society era was reduced after the formation of the Society (Singh, 1991, Ch.9).
Our interviews with selected key informants revealed that although problems of free riding and non-co-operation in maintaining the common pool distribution system, in payment of water charges to the Society in time, in adhering to the planned crop pattern, and in using the water judiciously were not completely eliminated, the member-irrigators co-operated in minimising the wastage of water and putting it to more productive use. As a result, the area irrigated increased over time and the irrigation potential created was more fully utilised. The distribution of water through the Warabandi system developed by the Society was fair and equitable and the members were satisfied with it. The Government officials in the Irrigation and the Command Area Development Departments were spared of the hassles involved in recovery of water charges, distribution of water, and repair and maintenance of field channels of the pre-society days.
All in all, the Mohini Water Co-operative Society provides a good example of how canal water can be better used and managed collectively by the co-owners under the auspices of a formally organised co-operative society backed up by a set of statutory bye-laws and patronised by government. After having seen the positive effects of the Society, farmers in other villages of the command area of the Ukai-Kakrapar Project have started approaching the Irrigation Department with requests for help in establishing similar societies in their villages. Ten such societies had already been organised by the end of November 1990 and another 12 were in the pipeline. The most crucial requirements for success in this kind of a management system are an enlightened, benevolent, and stable leadership; a fair and equitable system of distribution of water; assured, adequate, and timely supplies of water; financial viability of the society; linkages with other local organisations and institutions concerned with agricultural development; substantial private benefits to irrigators from joining the society/organisation; co-operation of members in payment of their dues to the society; and government patronage and support