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Persian Wheels to Submersible pumps: Social Organization of Shared Ground water Irrigation in Punjab,India

Congress: 2008
Author(s):
Senior Scientific Officer, IWMI-Tata Water Policy Program,International Water Management Institute (IWMI), ICRISAT, Hyderabad, Patencheru, Andhra Pradesh, India- 502324. Phone- 091-040-3071-3071 Fax -040-3071-3074 Mobile 091-9959538362

Keyword(s): Persian wheels , shared wells, kinship, land and water rights, Indus basin
AbstractWater flowing in irrigation systems is as much product of social organization as it is natural resource. In traditional societies particularly, technologies of an irrigation system and aspects of social structure for its use are necessarily intertwined. One such case is the lesser known world of shared ground water irrigation in Punjab, India. An indigenous institution has always existed since time immemorial which utilizes kinship relations as functional groups to execute instrumental economic functions like irrigation. This institution has been reported since nineteenth century in academic and administrative literature. Persian wheels shared by kins were common phenomenon. People shared irrigation time according to the ratio of land in the command area of wells. The shareholders were allocated bari or water turns. They attached land rights with water rights, which were recognized by local customary law. The principles based on elaborate rules and sub rules , consensus, notions of equity, shaped recurrent patterns of behavior. There has been long history of cooperation and conflict around shared irrigation. The institution continues to be widely prevalent in rural Punjab (India). The principles and rules have been crafted over successive technologies. This institution is not only durable enough to negotiate technological changes from Persian wheels to current submersible pumps, but also adapted successfully to change in regional groundwater ecology. Surprisingly, irrigation bureaucracy and policy makers remain largely ignorant about the institution. This major objective of the paper is to analyze and explain details of social organization of shared ground water irrigation in the villages of Punjab. There is little information on people actual behavior patterns, rules and norms they follow at ground level. The research paper analyses linkages of land and water rights, transfer and inheritance of water rights, rules as well as their deviations in daily life, agriculture patterns (crop pattern, labor organization, etc) and current issues faced for example, impact of electricity supplies schedule .This social- anthropological study used, multidisciplinary tools and techniques, such as ethnography around water management, genealogy of shared well owners, and comprehensive survey over wide area in Indus Basin (Indian part). Secondary sources like Census, District Gazetteers and Irrigation reports have been extensively used to understand changing irrigation profile of the region. The study shows the dominance of shared ground water irrigation in Punjab. The homogeneity of principles and rules over wide area emphasize the spread and strength of the institution of kinship based shared irrigation system. With adoption of new technologies, the institution also modified its sub rules and operational strategies without changing the basic principles and major rules. However, despite being a functional institution, it has its own conflicts and limitations. The shared ground water institution which has helped small and marginal landholders is now facing pressures from growing demand for water intensive crops, power pricing, and policy of restricted power supply in farm sector. Thus the research paper has wide policy importance for water security for small and marginal landholders in Indian Punjab.
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