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Conflict and inequality in surface irrigation: a socio-ecological perspective


  • Vashishtha, P. S.
  • Singh, D.


This paper attempts to understand the role of institutions and governance, in explaining unequal access to canal water under different rules of the game. Two states at different levels of agricultural productivity with different rules of distribution of canal water are chosen to study the problem at project level. While Bihar, at low level of agricultural productivity, represents absence of scientific method of distribution of water, Punjab offers high level of agricultural productivity with the warabandi system. The two case studies offer interesting similarities and dissimilarities in terms of unequal access to water by the tail enders and mechanisms needed to mitigate this inequality. Some similarities are: (a) the tail enders suffer the most with low access to water forcing them to adopt only low water intensive crops in comparison to the head reach and mid reach farmers; and (b) the farmers supplement canal water with ground water. The dissimilarities noticed are: (a) while over exploitation of ground water in Punjab has reached levels beyond natural recharge of aquifers in several places; in Bihar, with low withdrawal of ground water and natural endowment of high water table, such a situation has not arisen; (b) the breaking of canal and water courses for own benefit by the powerful with political clout is rampant in Bihar, rarely attracting a penalty from the irrigation department; (c) the water market for tubewell water (Rs.70 to 80 per hour) has developed in Bihar partly mitigating inequality in access to canal water by the tail enders; no such phenomenon is common in Punjab. The plausible reason for the low density of tubewells in Bihar in contrast to Punjab is low incomes making affordability of tubewell an issue, and (d) cooperative efforts by farmers to lay down pipes through neighbors’ plots to minimize loss of water has succeeded in Punjab; in Bihar such efforts succeeded initially at a small scale but could not sustain without government assistance. The absence of scientific rule for distribution of canal water and the weak canal governance system aggravates the misery of tail enders. In such a scenario, the mitigation of unequal access to water by the tail enders is facilitated by the development of water markets at high cost in a complex situation with tiny holdings and lack of cooperation among the farmers.Length: pp.808-818

Suggested Citation

  • Vashishtha, P. S. & Singh, D., 2008. "Conflict and inequality in surface irrigation: a socio-ecological perspective," Conference Papers h042933, International Water Management Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:iwt:conppr:h042933

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Singh, Kumar Anish & Chaudhary, A.K. & Sinha, D.K., 2007. "Groundwater Marketing in Nalanda District of Bihar State: A Socio-economic Appraisal," Agricultural Economics Research Review, Agricultural Economics Research Association (India), vol. 20(2).
    2. Meinzen-Dick, Ruth Suseela, 1996. "Groundwater markets in Pakistan: participation and productivity," Research reports 105, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    3. Saleth, Rathinasamy Maria, 2004. "Strategic analysis of water institutions in India: application of a new research paradigm," IWMI Research Reports H035163, International Water Management Institute.
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