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Indigenous Irrigation in South Bihar, India: A Case of Congruence of Boundaries

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Pant, Niranjan
Conference: Crossing Boundaries, the Seventh Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Conf. Date: June 10-14
Date: 1998
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1647
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
farmer-managed irrigation
indigenous institutions
Abstract: "The literature pertaining to hydraulic agriculture is subject to various types of theoretical propositions which sometimes are of opposite nature. The major controversy centers around the centralised/decentralised authority structure for irrigation management. The centralists led by Steward (1949) and Wittfogel (1957) posited that large- scale irrigation required centralised coordination and direction of efforts, which in turn, led to greater political integration. Wittfogel thought that the management of irrigation water required a high degree of discipline and that in turn implied central control and an all powerful bureaucracy. Wittfogel, thus, propounded the tendancy of centralised organisation as unavoidable, as generated and required by imperatives of physical system and its technology. "The inevitability of a 'topdown' structure has been questioned by a large number of researchers. Millon (1962), for instance finds, 'no clear relationship between degree of centralisation of authority and the size of irrigation system or the number of persons it supports'. Similarly, Leach (1959) argues that although there were large irrigation works in Sri Lanka, there is no evidence that such irrigation works produced in the hydraulic bureaucracy envisaged by Wittfogel. Eva and Robert Hunt (1974) support Leach's contention. The inevitability of centralised organisation thesis has been challenged by Thornton (1976) at another level. After considering the physical aquisition and transport of water, Thornton points out that it is with distribution of irrigation water that the 'largest number of organisational alternatives occur'. "Closely linked to the concept of decentralised managed irrigation systems is the ecological perspective which emphasizes 'the role of physical-environmental factors in shaping, limiting or determining various forms of group- shared behavior and the regularities which lie behind them' (Berry 1976). It is agreed that physical and natural habitat are not the only factors that shape institutional and organisational patterns, but the important role such factors play need not be overlooked (Bennet 1969). An important premise of the ecological perspective is that social groups relate to the environments in which they operate - both the physical and natural habitat and the socio- political milieu - through the mediation of socially organised activities which aim at satisfying the requirements of collective survival (Micklin 1973). As Yehudi Cohen (1974) notes, it is this socially organised relationship between the group and its environment that ecologists refer to as the group's adaptation."

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