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Renovating Tanks and Canals

  Traditional tanks are prone to heavy siltation and little effort has been done for maintenance

Large tanks built in Bundelkhand during Chandela or Bundela times, or after Independence, and used for irrigation, are under the control of the state irrigation (water resources) department; smaller tanks are under the control of  panchayats. Most of the tanks have suffered heavy siltation and no significant financial allocations have been made for repair and maintenance of tanks and attached canals.

A 2002 study  of seven large and three small tanks in Tikamgarh district by Manas Satpathy and others for the IWMI (International Water Management Institute)-Tata Water Policy Research Programme found that in all 10 tanks sluices, canals and waste weirs were in need of repairs [Satpathy].

In all the tanks siltation had affected yield of fish and in one case it had significantly reduced live storage. Three tanks had an inefficient hole and plug system for regulating release of water; once the plug was taken out, water continued to flow even if there was no need for it. In all cases, seepage losses in canals was high.

While local people did make efforts to clean canals, they could not do as much as was required in many cases, due to heavy rate of siltation.

However, the problems were not insurmountable. The researchers estimated that in each case, minimum required repairs could be done for Rs 2-5 lakhs and people were willing to bear this cost, through staggered payments against loans.

In Jatara block of Tikamgarh district, five tanks have been 'rehabilitated' by an NGO called Srijan by involving  tank user groups (TUG). The TUGs comprised only farmers having land in the command area and the work was restricted to desiltation and lining of canals. Additional water so supplied gave an extra irrigation cycle to most of around 400 command area farmers.

Desilting of tanks itself is a more complex issue. Complete desilting would usually be uneconomical and unnecessary, as generally tanks are fully filled up only in a few years of very good monsoons.

Disposal of the desilted material will also be difficult, as fertile silt is found only in the top layer. Hence, in most cases, desilting would have to be limited to areas close to the sluice and along the periphery of the tank.

Before any such work is undertaken, water inflow routes have to be studied. Quite often, inflow is blocked due to construction of roads or houses, or watershed development structures such as checkdams and percolation ponds. If blockage of water inflow is permanent and severe, it is better to look at tanks as percolation rather than direct irrigation structures.

All these decisions involve a range of stakeholders: farmers who have land in command areas, fishermen, farmers who cultivate in dry tank beds, businessmen who fund fishermen, and panchayats that earn revenue from fishing and tank bed cultivation.

Till date, there is in Bundelkhand no record of a happy arrangement between all these stakeholders.

In case of the vast canal irrigation system built in during British rule, for benefit of Bundelkhand plain areas, the cost of cleaning silt and reducing seepage by using cement lining across the entire system would be high.

Recovery of costs from users is fair and viable, if distribution of water is made more equitable and transparent. But water user associations (WUAs) formed for this purpose have generally become political bodies dominated by powerful landlords, with little real representation for all users, including women.

The IWMI-Tata study observed that WUAs had been formed in Tikamgarh by clubbing users of several tanks under one WUA. The WUAs had 'no visible impact' and many users were not even aware of the existence or role of these associations.


  • Satapathy Manas, Malik Arvind, Ganguly Ujjal, Arya Ved, Who Should Manage the Tanks: Irrigation Department, Users’ Organisation or Private Management Agency? A Quest to Find a Sustainable Institutional Solution – Interim Findings of Study into Tanks in Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh, pre-publication discussion paper prepared for the IWMI-Tata Program Annual Partners' Meet 2002, IWMI-Tata Water Policy Research Program: 2002

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