Working Paper No. 65 November, 2005
It is argued that the reason for the ills of irrigation management is the alienation of farmers from the process of planning and implementation. Often 'lack of political will' is identified as the main reason for the tardy progress in irrigation reforms at the state level. Andhra Pradesh has demonstrated the political will by initiating widespread irrigation reforms through legislation. This paper, based on the situation after six years of WUAs in existence, makes an attempt to provide a comprehensive view on the status and functioning of the Water Users' Associations in the State. It is argued that while substantial amounts of money were spent on the reform process, the money was used mainly for improving the ailing irrigation systems rather than strengthening the formal institutional structures. Though some benefits in terms of increased area under irrigation in canal systems and improved quality of irrigation is evident, the sustainability of these benefits is rather uncertain in the absence of efficient institutional structures. Despite the fact that WUAs are promoted as non-political institutions, 'elite capture' and political involvement dominate their functioning. And the present trend appears to be towards further politicization of these institutions. More importantly, even after six years of their existence devolution of powers to WUAs has not taken place, as most of the important functions like assessment, collection of water charges, sanctioning of works, etc., are still in the hands of the irrigation department. In the absence of devolution of powers the WUAs are aiming for political gains rather than improving the systems. It is argued that political will is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for making the WUAs autonomous and self-sufficient. Restructuring and reforming of the State irrigation departments and the bureaucracy is critical for effective and sustainable irrigation institutions.