| Co-Operatives In Natural Resources Management Workshop report 10 |
The absence of clearly defined property rights, coupled with the high investment required to lift groundwater, raises questions about the social, economic and ecological implications of institutional arrangements designed for the use and management of this CPR. Ensuring equitable access to groundwater is important because overpumping of water in a given watershed, usually by individual tube-well owners, has wider implications for the aquifer to which all those living in the area have a legitimate claim (Singh and Ballabh, 1992). The commercialisation of and rapid technological changes in agriculture such as increasing use of fertilisers and pesticides have affected both the quantity and quality of groundwater and necessitated conjunctive use and management of surface and groundwater resources. The common pool nature of groundwater and the consequent interdependency among its users are strong rationale for regulating and co-ordinating its use by some form of community or village level organisation. Sustainability and equity should be guiding criteria for regulating water use.
There were seven papers on the subject presented at the Workshop. Two of the papers presented (Retnam and Nair, 1992 and Moench, 1992) suggest that co-operatives, existing or otherwise, are an appropriate institutional arrangement for sustainable and equitable use and management of groundwater. Shah and Bhattarcharya (1992) compare the productivity and efficiency of tube-well co-operatives and irrigation companies in the Kheda and Mehsana districts respectively of Gujarat. They use the following three criteria for the purpose of comparison: (i) Do such organisations self-create or do they have to be created by outsiders?; (ii) Does the organisation adapt itself to changing markets and environmental conditions?; and (iii) Does the organisation resist, adapt or mutate when its basic principles are challenged? Using these criteria, they conclude that it is the irrigation companies, which stand out as "superior" organisations. Here, the locus of control is internal and is based on the proportionality principle in capital contribution, land holding within the command area, share in profits, risks and investments. Small in size, companies are autonomous and self-financed (surplus retained for future contingencies). In contrast, in Kheda, the Gujarat Groundwater Resources Development Corporation, is leasing out state tube-wells to farmers on the condition that they form co-operatives to manage them primarily to salvage its own investments,. Not only are such co-operatives dominated by large farmers, they lack effective mechanisms for conflict resolution and remain weak and fragile organisations caught in the web of bureaucracy (externally imposed rules and regulations). Their main motive is to secure benefits for their members-low water prices, low energy costs, and subsidising of large farmers by small ones (Shah and Bhattacharaya, 1992). They conclude that the companies are better than the co-operatives as an organisation structure for groundwater management. However, author ignored several key issues: what happens to non-members in the watershed who may be making (illegitimate) claims on the same CPR, but not paying for it (i.e., free-riding)? How long can companies or co-operatives sustain themselves given the significant over-use of groundwater? What are the implications for agriculture - changes in crops and cropping patterns? To what extent do small farmers benefit from companies as opposed to co-operatives?
The paper by Retnam and Nair (1992) looks at informal co-operation in the management of groundwater resources in Amabalavanapuram village, southern Tamil Nadu, a water scarce area. The authors argue that partnership wells owned by 6-25 members from the same caste or family, living in the same village, who came together because of the high investment costs associated with lifting groundwater, are more viable than wells whose partners are for the most part absentee cultivators and landowners. That is, farmers who are forced to migrate, either temporarily or permanently during periods of drought, are not expected to share in the costs of lifting water or maintenance of wells which take place in their absence. As a result, conflicts arise and are not usually resolved in the case of wells owned mostly by absentee partners.
While the authors have commented on the changes in crops and cropping patterns, as well as the availability of groundwater, many researchable issues are not touched by them. For example, if it is the women who do most of the agricultural work in the absence of their husbands, then what kinds of rights do women have to collective assets such as wells? Surely, if the men are unable to resolve the conflicts, then perhaps a tentative proposal could be to involve women in the management of wells, assuming they have the time and inclination to do so. It is also not clear, because of lack of household-based socio-economic data, as to why certain people are forced off their lands during periods of water scarcity and others are not. In conclusion, Retnam and Nair feel that people’s participation through a co-operative organisation could lead to conservation, rational extraction and equitable utilisation of groundwater in the long-run. But there is no guarantee that such participation would ensure decision-making from bottom up. The nature and distribution of power at the micro and macro levels, and class, caste and gender differences need to be explored to get a better understanding of changes in the agrarian economy which, in turn, affect the sustainable use of groundwater.
The paper by Moench (1992) presents an overview of the situation engendered by overdevelopment of groundwater in Gujarat. He suggests that supply side (augmenting the availability of groundwater) and demand side (type of crop) solutions need to be looked at together following a holistic approach to resource management and agriculture. He reiterates the concept of interdependency, based on a network of physical, social, economic and cultural ties which bind a group of people together, as a strong incentive for the co-operative management of CPRs.
Moench proposes that the existing rural (dairy) co-operatives could be used for management of groundwater as well, if they are equipped with required additional technical skills by apex organisations like the NDDB. However, this suggestion may not be applicable for a variety of reasons. There is no necessary locational correlation between the availability of groundwater and the existence of village dairy co-operatives. To assume that dairy co-operatives are highly successful and provide a variety of services to members is to overlook the range of critical literature on the Anand Pattern or the role of non-members (e.g., pastoralists) in the distribution of "benefits". Furthermore, the major strength of dairy co-operatives has been their singular focus on one product, namely, milk and its by-products. Thus the institutional structures and technical expertise required for transportation, processing and marketing of milk would be quite different from those needed for lifting of groundwater and maintenance of pumps. In sum, then, the advocacy of co-operatives as a means of sustainable use and management of groundwater cannot ignore the realities of local power structures and macro policy frameworks within which such organisations are embedded. Otherwise the principle of co-operation will remain simply a hollow rhetoric.
The paper by Thomas Palakudiyil (1992) addresses two distinct questions. First, he counters the "tragedy of commons" argument by indicating that concrete cases may be found which run contrary to the "tragedy" thesis. His own case-study was presented as an example of that. Second, he identifies four conditions that contributed to the emergence and survival of the organisation under study. They are (i) indivisibility of resource; (ii) high economic benefits; (iii) homogeneity of members; and (iv) supportive environment. In our opinion the case-study has several other interesting features which too demand attention. For example, he mentions that as many as 36 out of the 54 members of the associations have been elected to the managing committee for one or more terms during the fifteen years of its existence, a fact that contradicts the usual notion of leadership (Thomas, 1992).
In his study of Sahada Lift Irrigation Co-operative, Barik (1992) discusses (i) right ways of farmer mobilisation; (ii) features of the organisation of the beneficiaries; and (iii) estimates of economic benefits, which incidentally, comes to be lower than the claims made by the sponsor of the co-operative - an NGO called Sadguru Water and Development Foundation. However, the paper deserves attention for two other features, rarely found in this group of studies. One, he indicates that apart from legal and financial supports, beneficiary (farmer) organisations also require technical support. In this case, such support was extended by the NGO in the forms of expert survey, providing good pumps and establishing a network for quick repair. Two, his discussion of sustainability deserves attention. Generally, sustainability is discussed with respect to resource availability or environmental viability. The present paper has addressed the question of sustainability from the perspective of management. The co-operative, which is a well-known success story, has been in existence for almost a decade. This provides a nice opportunity for evaluating the performance of its management structure. According to the author, the efficiency and sustainability of the scheme depends largely upon: (i) regular supply of electricity which is quite erratic; (ii) pricing method and structure; and (iii) provision of reserves for capital replacement (Barik, 1992).
Unlike other authors, Patil and Lele (1992) make a set of policy recommendations for extension officials based on several action research experiences of the CASAD team. Since the recommendations are written in a precise way and each one is important it will be improper to single out anyone for highlighting. Instead, we feel that the aspect that needs special mention in this paper is the authors’ quest for arriving at a distinct set of recommendations in such important areas as operational rules, water allocation, modernisation, and monitoring. The authors also assert that farmer involvement is justified only if it makes a positive contribution to development. This is radically different from the usual official approach where the task of organising farmers is undertaken "because it is a policy". In their opinion, the guidelines for extension work are more instructive than facilitating.
In his paper on analysis of phad system of irrigation Gulati (1992) first, highlights the need and benefits of farmers’ participation in the management of large and medium irrigation projects; second, draws a number of implications from the phad system which could be replicated in large and medium irrigation projects for active involvement farmers. This phad system of irrigation is practised in Nasik.
The phad system of irrigation is practised in Nasik and Dhule districts of Maharashtra. There are 66 such systems covering approximately 5,500 ha. of command area in these two districts. The command area of an individual phad system varies between 8 - 480 ha. The paper presents a detailed outline of the management method, identifies various variants of it and the factors affecting its success. Some of the factors identified included a) the system serves only one single village; b) a small community in which social group pressure works successfully; and c) non-interference of government.
The discussion on irrigation co-operatives mainly focussed on three aspects: (i) macro-environment; (ii) governance and control structures and practices; and (iii) pricing of water.
A summary of the discussion follows:
(i) Macro Environment: Certain conditions need to be created by the State to facilitate the emergence of co-operatives. In the opinion of the workshop participants, the following are important:
1. There should be institutional mechanisms for quick resolution of conflicts and establishment and enforcement of property rights. They should facilitate enforcement of contracts and resolve conflicts, both interstate and intrastate, over surface and groundwater rights. There also ought to be greater clarity in rights over water.
2. There should be greater willingness on the part of government to hand over the management of water distribution to water users’ co-operatives, wherever possible. Currently, attempts are made to involve the users, whether in surface irrigation systems or public tube-wells, only when the bureaucracy finds it difficult to manage by itself. Instead, systems should be planned to facilitate user involvement in management.
3. Institutions for providing unbiased information on water resources to the users should be created. Although there are institutions which provide such information, they now have lost credibility because of the way they have operated in the past. Information in a form, meaningful to farmers, should be provided on the availability of groundwater at a particular location or surface water in a surface irrigation system which services them.
4. Priority should be on local use of resources. The resource base of any region should be utilised to meet the needs of the people in that region before it is used for the benefit of others.
5. People should be given the right to design their own organisa-tions. An appropriate organisational design is one which is uniquely suited to the environment. Mandating a uniform design will make organisations ineffective in several situations. In this context, greater attention should be paid to research on resource-specific issues. Water, forestry and fishery as resources differ from one another on certain critical parameters such as whether there is a symmetry in use, multiple uses of the resource and whether they can be used conjunctively. Organisational design should pay particular attention to the characteristics of the resource. A design suitable for an organisation engaged in exploiting a forest may not be suitable for sharing water from an irrigation system.
(ii) Governance and Control Structures: For the reasons cited above, internal structures may vary from one organisation to another and therefore they cannot be specifically stated for general application. The participants felt that governance and control structures should be designed so as to enhance openness, legitimacy, accountability and monitoring of member activities.
(iii) Pricing of Water: This is important as it has a strong bearing on long-term viability of co-operatives. Pricing relates to what the co-operative buys (canal water in bulk, for example) and what it provides to its members (irrigation from a deep tube-well or canal water purchased in bulk from the system). The group felt that the co-operatives may be subsidised by the State when they take up activities which were hitherto the responsibility of the State. The State could pass on funds that it was incurring on the scheme to the user groups. The group felt that this should be done only if necessary for the survival of the group.
The major criteria suggested for co-operatives to determine the prices they charge to their members are:
(i) proportionality: and
(ii) full cost recovery.
Pricing formula should be designed such that members pay in relation to the benefits they receive. This is essential for both efficient resource-use and for maintaining group cohesiveness. Pricing should also seek to recover full costs as groups cannot sustain themselves without outside support if they do not do so. The group felt that, the benefits from irrigation are large enough to enable the users to pay the full costs of providing it. The group felt that in surface irrigation systems the user charges should, at least, cover operation and maintenance costs. The objective should be full cost recovery and the co-operatives should have the flexibility to decide how and when to collect the charges.