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Notes on the Geography of India Themes: Irrigation 3: the Sequel

The tailend shortages that began appearing with the British insistence on high-tension irrigation systems have become only more pronounced in the last 50 years, mostly because the irrigation bureaucracies of independent India are corrupt not only at petty levels, as they were during the British period, but often to the top layers of the administration, which wasn't true in the British period. Still, dams and reclamation have an irresistible appeal in India.

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India Themes: Irrigation 3: the Sequel picture 1

The Tungabhadra Dam, taken from the hilltop guesthouse where visitors are supposed to be inspired. Two canals can be seen starting on this right-bank of the river; a third starts on the left, in the distance.  Looks good, but if you want to stay cheerful you'd better not wander too far downstream. Extract from a government report: "We have bitter experience in TBP command in this regard. At our insistence farmers were persuaded to take loans from the banks and made to do land shaping and reclamation in advance of receipt of water. But they didn't get water even three years after development of lands. There was a huge cry...." Why? Think tailend shortage.

India Themes: Irrigation 3: the Sequel picture 2

Many miles downstream, the Tungabhadra joins the Krishna and is impounded behind the Nagarjunasagar Dam. At the dedication ceremony in 1955, Prime Minister Nehru called this dam part of "the temple of Humanity of India." Over a million acres were supposed to be irrigated, but a kind of anarchy quickly developed, with headenders on each branch canal growing water-intensive crops, while tailenders got nothing. A culture of corruption emerged within the irrigation bureaucracy, which was paid to look the other way.

India Themes: Irrigation 3: the Sequel picture 3

En route to trouble: a deep cut for the Nagarjunasagar Left Bank Canal.

India Themes: Irrigation 3: the Sequel picture 4

Farther downstream.

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Down in the trenches: a warabandi sign. The term means "rotation," and the sign specifies the times when each farmer is allowed to take the entire flow of the one small distributary. It sounds good, but don't believe everything you read. The NSP project was hydraulic anarchy, at least when this photo was taken in 1981. Extract from government report: farmers are "resorting to a lot of irrigation indiscipline by breaching the major [canals] at several reaches and changing the pipes [outlet points] as per their own convenience."

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Nothing unique to the NSP. Here's the Bhadra Project, far upstream in Karnataka. Away with those control works! Fiat aqua!

India Themes: Irrigation 3: the Sequel picture 7

The Ghod Project, east of Pune on a left-bank tributary of the Bhima. A Maharashtra committee in 1981 found that half the nominally irrigated land in the state was not getting water at all. The development of canal systems without water had been, in the committee's ponderous language, a "colossal infructuous expenditure."

India Themes: Irrigation 3: the Sequel picture 8

But woe to the politician who tries to stop dam construction. Here, a dam is under construction at Varasgaon, near Pune (Poona). Men place and mortar the stones; women and children carry the materials.

India Themes: Irrigation 3: the Sequel picture 9

The same dam from the base.

India Themes: Irrigation 3: the Sequel picture 10

The Manair Dam scaffolding is bamboo: strong, flexible, but pretty frightening to a landlubber.


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