Rural tank rejuvenation

Rural tank rejuvenation

A tank is a low, earthen bund constructed across a shallow valley to hold the rainfall runoff from its catchment area. Tanks may be either isolated or in cascades. In a cascade, when the upper tank gets filled, the spill over the surplus weir is led into the tanks lower down, one below the other as a cascade until the last tank spills into a drain or a river. Tanks have been the main source of irrigation in many parts of India from time immemorial. India experiences extremes of climate within its 329 million hectares (ha) of geographical area. Rainfall pattern is neither predictable nor uniform over space and time. The incidence of rainfall is also seasonal, occurring mainly during the southwest monsoon (June to September) in most of the country except the rain shadow areas of the western ghats (steep mountainous range), notably Tamil Nadu. Being confined to a few monsoon months, rainfall behavior is highly erratic.

South and Eastern Indian tanks and ponds (tanks are mostly constructed over the land and have hydrological continuity from one to the other in cascading form while the ponds are mostly dug out and isolated) are known for their antiquity. They were created essentially as multiple-use structures for irrigation, livestock, and human uses. In addition, innumerable small water holding structures called ponds have been in existence in many North Indian states and constructed even after Independence. Although these ponds are primarily meant for inland freshwater aquaculture, they have also been used for irrigated agriculture, livestock, and other domestic use.

South India has more tanks because of its geography, climate, and terrain situations. Most of the land lying between western ghats and the eastern coast misses the intensive rainfall of the dependable south-west monsoon. But the north-east monsoon, which is less dependable, brings more rain over these areas. However, the north-east monsoon is often accompanied by cyclones and pours heavily in short spells. Unless this rain water is collected and stored, these areas will have acute water shortage and drought during the rest of the year. Hence tanks have come into existence in this part of the country in large numbers.

The geological formation of south India is of hard granite gneisses, which helps reduce deep percolation from tanks and ponds. This may be yet another reason for the existence for more tanks in southern peninsular India than in the north. The north-east monsoon is more active in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and they also have the maximum number of tanks. The southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu put together have around 143,000 tanks, constituting nearly 50% of the tanks in India.

South Indian tanks are inextricably linked to the socio-cultural aspects of rural communities and have historically been an indispensable part of the village habitat. The layout, structure, and construction of these tanks bring out the ingenuity of past generations who constructed the tanks suitably fitting to the gradual fall of the contours. As small-scale irrigation systems, these tanks are easily adaptable to the system of decentralized village administration they have. The precise shape and size of each tank seem to have been determined by the terrain. The overflow of one tank moves into the lower down tank and so on up to the sea or drain. Building this highly interconnected system would have also required civil engineering skills of a high order. Maintaining such an extensive dispersed system and sharing the waters need extraordinary social and managerial skills. The sharing of tank water and other usufructs is perhaps the essence of democratic functioning that prevailed then.

These tanks have many special features. The tank is recognized as having at least four different functions in irrigated agriculture—water conservation, soil conservation, flood control, and protection of ecology of the surrounding area. There are evidences of well-developed irrigation systems in literatures, epigraphs, and as remnants of structures. Behind these existing indigenous systems of irrigation are thousands of years of tradition.

Tank Rehabilitation Project in Orissa

There are traditional tank systems in the western and southern parts of Orissa, which were under the Madras presidency during the British rule. Nearly 40% of the total minor irrigation (MI) schemes are located in this region. Even after the independence these MI projects (MIPs) were maintained by the Rural Engineering Department, which was formed in 1962 and later in 1980, the MI Organization was established for the schemes having more than 40 ha of ayacut and less than 2,000 ha.

Tank rejuvenation in Karnataka

Karnataka has 36,672 tanks with a command area of around 690,000 ha distributed in 27 districts. About 90% of these tanks have a command of less than 40 ha. The actual irrigated area is about 35% of the total registered potential of tanks. Since 1997, minor irrigation activities are handled by the Department of Minor Irrigation (DMI). The administrative perception of a tank seems to be purely in engineering and technical terms while expertise from other fields (e.g., agronomy, hydrology, watershed and social sciences) for a holistic management of tanks is woefully missing. The DMI looks after the tanks with command area of 40– 2,000 ha, while tanks with less than 40 ha command area are in the care of zilla (district) panchayat, and those with above 2,000 ha are with medium and major irrigation departments. One of the major reasons for the decline in tanks is lower budgetary allocations, both on capital investment and maintenance, and repairs.

The government of Karnataka recognizes the importance of tank rehabilitation. However, no holistic planning or management has been contemplated for the sustainability of the benefits. Neither the improvement of catchment of the tanks to increase the flow but to arrest the flow of silt nor the need for hydrological analysis based on existing data and available technology have been considered as integral to the tank rehabilitation package. Moreover, the linkages between irrigation and agriculture, horticulture, safe drinking water, etc., need to be more clearly established to help ensure that improved water management translates into concrete improvement in livelihoods.

The government of Karnataka amended the Karnataka Irrigation Act 1965 in 2000 to provide scope for establishing WUCS for command areas extending from 500 to 700 ha. The analysis of operational feasibility revealed that establishing an institution on command area basis by clubbing more than one tank under a cooperative act would be a nonviable proposition. The government of Karnataka has changed this provision through an Act in 2002, which provided organizing tank users’ groups (TUGs) under the Societies Registration Act for individual tanks. In a significant and far-reaching step toward strengthening rural decentralization, the government of Karnataka has transferred all the tanks having a command area of up to 40 ha to the control of gram (village) panchayats with effect from April 2004 and is in the process of evolving required operational guidelines for gram panchayats to function effectively.

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