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close this bookDesign and Operation of Smallholder Irrigation in South Asia (WB, 1995, 134 p.)
close this folderChapter 12 - Cultivator organizations
View the documentCultivator organizations in irrigation system operation
View the documentTraditional organization in village-level irrigation schemes
View the documentProjection from the village-level organization to cultivator organizations in public systems
View the documentExperience and problems with water user groups in public irrigation systems

Projection from the village-level organization to cultivator organizations in public systems

A question frequently asked is if the organization of village-level schemes works so well why is it so difficult to obtain effective operation of tertiary-level water user groups in larger public irrigation systems? The answer lies partly in the attitude of cultivators to government facilities, in contrast to village-owned facilities. The philosophy that if government built it then government should operate and maintain it is deeply rooted. In the eyes of the cultivator the government label still remains, however sincere efforts may be to involve cultivators in all stages of planning and construction of a facility, . This is very evident, incidentally, where government assistance in rehabilitation of tank schemes can have the unfortunate effect of causing villagers to abdicate responsibility for operation and maintenance of a previously well managed village scheme.

There are other factors contributing to the problems of group operation at the tertiary level. The supply to the tertiary is indeed under the irrigation department's control, and the cultivator view is understandably that any deficiency in supply is due to government mismanagement. He will consequently take whatever water he can get, as an individual, without regard for the interests of his neighbors or the group as a whole. There has been much discussion of the merits of including representatives from water user groups in the management of water releases at the primary and secondary canal level, largely to avoid this problem. But such interaction between cultivators and the irrigation department is not yet common. In any case, the scope of such cooperation would necessarily be limited operationally, as the interests of individual tertiary commands may well be mutually in conflict. Moving the scale of water user group management from the individual tertiary command up to the secondary canal command (ten to twenty or more tertiaries) has also been suggested.

A further distinction between a village scheme and a tertiary command of a public scheme lies in the social situation within the two. While the group served by a village scheme may cover the whole social spectrum, communal relationships with respect to water distribution have been established in the village over several generations. In the case of a tertiary command in a newly developed irrigation area, the group has been brought together for the first time, as far as any type of communal activity is concerned. Substantial differences in caste, ethnicity or the level of economic affluence may well exist within the group. The bond of a common water source may bring such a disparate group together eventually, as it has with the village scheme, but close cooperation cannot be expected immediately.