KICS Sharing Session #30

Bridging the Last Mile in Canal Irrigation: 

No plain or simple matter 

Dr. Chitra Krishnan

Chair: Dr. A.R.Vasavi


Date and Time: January 16, 2014, 1600 – 1800 hrs
Centre for Education and Documentation,
No. 7, 8th Main , 3rd phase, Domlur 2nd Stage, Bengaluru- 560071

For many years now the public discourse on irrigation projects has dealt with delay, cost escalation and corruption. But the challenges that emerge after project completion are not well known.  For example, why is it that during a drought, some farmers have to run from pillar to post in the hope of receiving irrigation water? Why is it that arduous effort and heated negotiations sometimes bring only a trickle of water? On what basis are decisions made and who all decide how the water is to be distributed?  The design and delivery of irrigation projects do bring forth a set of problems that only farmers 'walking the last mile' are familiar with, not the wider public.   

In an era where urban India is increasingly concerned about the accountability of the Government, how should civil society participate in voicing the needs of the farmers and other marginalized sections? How should engineers and scientists design irrigation systems which are just and equitable in times of scarcity? Can common property resources like ponds and irrigation tanks be protected to better serve the community? How can policy-makers evolve better public delivery schemes? Can Government schemes invite different kinds of actors to secure equitable access to the benefits of science and technology? 

This sharing session will explore the above questions by chronicling the situation at the tail end of one canal irrigation project in Tumkur District, Karnataka. It covers a period of six years, but stresses mainly on two water scarce years. With a farmer’s perspective as the core of the narrative, the session will also discuss the value of the village irrigation tank to the community, changing cropping patterns, their effects, the vulnerability of farming and the community’s drive to survive.   

This sharing session forms part of a broader project titled “The State and Drought: Villagers' experiences”, which is supported by KICS Trust. The project seeks to shed light on the existing bottlenecks during implementation of government welfare schemes, as experienced by villagers themselves - especially in drought affected times. It aims to provide a grounded picture of the conditions under which rural lives are circumscribed today. 

The session will be moderated by Dr. A. R. Vasavi, currently a Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. She was earlier with the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru for 14 years including one as Dean of Social Sciences. She was recently awarded The Infosys Prize 2013 in Social Sciences – Sociology and Anthropology.

The speaker, Dr. Chitra Krishnan was trained as a civil engineer at IIT Madras following which she worked on water resource issues in rural Kerala before pursuing her Master’s in Environmental Engineering in USA. Her working stints in different rural contexts and an organic farm in the USA influenced her markedly in her research quests. She completed her PhD from IIT Delhi on the traditional irrigation system of South India (tanks and anicuts). Her research publications include “Irrigation Infrastructure: The Case of the Tungabhadra River”. She is currently practising dryland agriculture in Tumkur district, Karnataka and is involved in research studies looking at design and implementation issues of irrigation infrastructure from below.

The sharing sessions of Knowledge In Civil Society trust (KICS, are conversations organised around contemporary themes relevant to KICS’s work to enable learning from each other and contributing to contemporary discourse and ideas on science and democracy. The sessions seek to deepen shared and collective understanding of emerging ideas and themes, and further thinking across sectors and actors to enable greater participation of society in science, technology and society.

For further information please contact Veena (Ph: 093412 48784) or Joseph (Ph: 087905 35613)