|Efficiency and Equity In Groundwater Use And Management - Workshop Report 3 (IRMA, 1989)|
|3. Issues in the eastern - Gangetic region|
The eastern region has several advantages, such as good, fertile soil, flat topography, etc from the viewpoint of agricultural production. It also has constraints; all of its high rainfall is received in a short period of time; the region suffers from frequent flooding. Together with its flat topography, this causes severe drainage congestion problem (Prasad; Palmer Jones; ID Sharma).
The apparent topographical flatness of the flood plains is, misleading in that small differences in elevation and soil texture have significant implications for both monsoon and post-monsoon crops. Several examples were offered to illustrate these implications within the region. These problems become more and more acute as one moves from west to east in the region. As a result of these differences, economic and agricultural growth rates vary greatly within the region (Bhalla and Alagh 1979). For example, Singh in his paper describes these differences within eastern Uttar Pradesh between northern and southern parts. In the western part of the region low temperature and winter climate in the post-monsoon season are constraints on rice growing. The strategy of water resource development should, therefore, take into account these differences.The need to conduct hydro-agro-ecological mapping of the region and basinwise study of the area was highlighted.
The poor utilization of groundwater in the region is explained by both demand and supply constraints. Slow rates of adoption of modern agricultural technology is a serious hindrance to the expansion in water use (Kolavalli, et.al, 1988). Singh attributes rapid expansion of private tubewells since 1966 in some part of eastern Uttar Pradesh pockets to rapid propagation of HYV wheat technology. However, this HYV induced demand for controlled water supply through private tubewells could not go far due to several factors: (a) small and fragmented holdings (Prasad; ID Sharma; Singh), and (b) large farmers have no incentives to invest in groundwater lifting devices since such investment yields relatively small economic surplus especially through water sales due to weak demand.
Prasad, ID Sharma, and Singh emphasized fragmentation of holdings as major factors that inhibit investment in tubewells. The experience from Bangladesh suggested, somewhat paradoxically, that the markets for groundwater mitigate the ill-effects of fragmented land holdings in utilization of groundwater ( Palmer Jones). This has been supported from the Gujarat experience too where water markets have achieved a reasonable degree of competitiveness (Shah). The question then is: why has this same pattern not emerged in the Eastern-Gangetic region?
At present, we have no knowledge as to the forces that promote the development of water markets. The villages studied by Singh, had irrigation intensity of over 90 per cent. In these villages, consolidation of holdings was already completed much before shallow tubewells came in a big way. Therefore, it is difficult to say as to whether the consolidation of holdings is necessary for inducing farmers to invest in tubewells as is pointed out by some other studies (Agrawal 1971, Oldenberg 1985). Both of these views may not be entirely contradictory.
Apriori, consolidation may induce the farmers to invest in shallow tubewells by assuring the critical minimum consolidated area needed to justify tubewell investment. On the other hand, one could argue that when markets for groundwater achieve reasonable level of competitiveness as it has happened in Gujarat (Shah), it may even overcome constraints imposed by extreme land fragmentation as in the eastern Gangetic areas (Ballabh and Walker 1986). What perhaps, we do not know is to what extent land fragmentation affects the development of groundwater market. If, however, consolidation of land holdings does play a role; then it would be worth investigating, why consolidation programme did not succeed in this region, particularly beyond U.P. Our limited understanding about the role of land consolidation in the development of groundwater suggests need for more and focussed research in this important area.
Similar argument could be applied to other institutional constraints such as the uneven distribution of land holding, tenancy, and share cropping. The scope to redistribute land may be limited in developing countries including India and Bangladesh with an exception in few isolated areas (Binswanger and Elgin 1988); tenancy, particularly share cropping, undoubtedly is associated with the lower productivity. But increasing commercialization has in many cases led to the disappearance of the earlier association of lower productivity and investment with share cropping and tenancy. Their role, therefore, needs re-examination; in case of Gujarat, for example, irrigation is one of the important components in many contractual arrangements (Phansalkar). This establishes dynamic patterns in tenancy markets which need to be carefully studied.
Credit markets in most of the developing countries, particularly in India, are highly imperfect and fragmented. The difficulty and hassle experienced by small and marginal peasants in securing credit facilities are too well documented (ID Sharma; Singh). Poor quality, reliablity and insufficient supply of electricity inhibits investment in tubewells ( Prasad; ID Sharma; Singh). They also inhibit the emergence and development of water markets (Ballabh; ID Sharma). The performance on this front has been on a secular decline. The average power consumption per electric pumpset has fallen from 4990 kwh during 1960-61 to 1370 kwh in Bihar during 1978-79. This explains the decline in the command areas of both private as well as state tubewells (ID Sharma). Infact, as we shall see later, Ballabh and also Nagabrahmam have argued that reduced command area due to curtailed and erratic supply of electricity were important reasons for the failure of group tubewells in this region. Failure of assured supply of electricity has compelled farmers to invest in diesel engines resulting in over capitalization. Diesel tubewells are costlier compared to the electric ones ( ID Sharma). Evidence from north-eastern Uttar Pradesh suggests absolute decline in the number of electric tubewells and a sharp rise in diesel pumpsets in recent years (Singh). However, in southern parts, where water table is deeper, growth of electric tubewells is more rapid. Singh attributes these changes to higher tarrif rate fixed by the government accompanied by reduction in the supply of electricity. If this is true, then, high fixed tarrif rate may not always benefit the farmer. Because of erratic and reduced electricity supply, farmers were forced to make several adjustments which are costly. This must have affected private investment in tubewells.