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Tubewell Transfer in Gujarat: A Study of the GWRDC Approach

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Mukherji, Aditi; Kishore, Avinash
Date: 2003
Agency: International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Colombo, Sri Lanka
Series: IWMI Research Report no. 69
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/4261
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): irrigation
resource management
water resources
Abstract: "In India, public (government) tubewells were built with the intention of providing irrigation to all categories of farmers in a fair, equitable and affordable manner. However, most public tubewell programs across India have failed on all these counts. Efforts to transfer their management to water users too have met with little success. Nonetheless, the Gujarat Water Resources Development Corporation (GWRDC)-a state owned public company-has achieved rare success in tubewell transfer by transferring around 60 percent of public tubewells in the Gujarat State to user groups. Though the program was launched in 1988-1989, it gained momentum only in 1998. This study analysed the reasons for the sudden turn around in GWRDC's tubewell-transfer program and found that proactive policy changed under a new management helped the agency achieve rare success in tubewell transfer, which had so far eluded them. From 1995-1998, GWRDC accumulated losses worth Rs 206 million and there was pressure from the state treasury to close the corporation. At this juncture, under the leadership of a dynamic managing director, GWRDC simplified the transfer process and more importantly set transfer targets for each section office, thereby motivating the middle-and-lower-level staff to seriously pursue tubewell transfer. In addition to policy changes, extreme power shortages and the stoppage of Mahi canal water gave a further boost to the process; due to the water and power crisis situation, GWRDC tubewells became additional sources of water for irrigation. "However, mere transfer tubewells to farmer groups is not indicative of success. Therefore, this report also evaluated the performance of transferred tubewells against those owned by GWRDC and private operators. The findings, based on a survey of 110 tubewells in Anand district, suggest that turned-over tubewells perform significantly better than GWRDC-managed tubewells and that there is a marked improvement in their performance after transfer. But one of the drawbacks of this program has been the lack of incentives for long-term maintenance of the tubewells. Some of the clauses of transfer, such as short leases and the condition that tubewells must be handed back to GWRDC with all original parts intact (e.g., with original motor and not an inferior substitute) and that there should be no structural damage to the well, discourage farmers from investing in them. "In spite of its best efforts, GWRDC has been able to transfer only around 50 percent of its tubewells in Anand district of Gujarat state. Our study found that transfer is impeded when tubewells are in very poor condition as no one comes forward to take them over. Under such circumstances, we recommend that GWRDC can sell off the defunct tubewells and farmers will be willing to buy these as they come with electricity connections which are at a premium these days due to acute power shortages. Conversely, very good tubewells too cannot be transferred because various groups lay claim on them and in the absence of any consensus between groups, GWRDC cannot hand over such tubewells. We recommend that GWRDC should auction off the so called 'good' tubewells (defined as those which operate for more than 2,500 hours a year) to the highest bidder. This will increase the revenue of GWRDC and also help minimize disputes among farmers. Finally, increasing the lease tenure for existing turned-over tubewells to at least 10 years will make the program more attractive to farmers and will also help in ensuring long-term maintenance of the system. Given that the situation in Gujarat is quite unique (both in terms of relative equity in landholding and centrality of tubewell irrigation) it is not realistic to conclude that the GWRDC transfer program can be directly replicated in other states of India. However, the lessons learnt from the GWRDC experience are nevertheless important because other states could perhaps adapt the GWRDC transfer program according to their agrarian realities. "Despite its relative success, GWRDC's tubewell-transfer program does not qualify as a classic irrigation management transfer (IMT) case. In particular, IMT programs are designed to ensure sustainability of irrigation infrastructure, which GWRDC does not attempt to do. Similarly, most IMT programs such as those in Colombia, Mexico and Turkey focus on governance issue such as organizational structure and legal rights and duties of the water users associations (WUAs) , while GWRDC does not concern itself at all with these issues. Thus, GWRDC's attempt does not qualify as IMT in the prevailing sense of the term and in essence is more in tune with some rudimentary form of privatization whereby only the management responsibilities have been transferred without any long-standing legal implications."

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