Non-governmental Organisations Major Group - 2nd World Water Forum

Background Paper for the workshop ‘WATER & AGRICULTURE’


Integrated River Basin Management versus River Valley Development:

Peasants Vision from River Cauvery Basin, Tamil Nadu, India

(Facilitated by S.T.Somashakhara Reddy and Dr.H.N. Chankhya)

1. Introduction:

 Farmers of 82 villages in the basin of the River Cauvery have expressed their vision of basin management.

 2.Present Situation

2.1. River Valley Development Leads to Lopsided Development

The Cauvery river basin has witnessed development through irrigation for almost tow thousand years and more intensely in the last two centuries. The grand anicut motivated Sir Arthur Cotton to plan for barrages across mighty rivers of India and it was the basin where the first large dam was built in 1930. The following were taken into account in the peasants vision

In a situation, where the chances to expand the area under irrigation beyond 15 per cent by building a dam or a barrage across river, is totally absent.

Wherein the "benefits" of irrigation has not been able to have an impact for more than 10% of the population in the basin.

Threat to livelihood system due to a greater shift towards cash crops demanding more water and high inputs (both financially and resource wise). Both under the irrigated conditions and rain-fed conditions the area under food grains, especially, coarse grains consumed largely by resource poor, is being replaced by the cash crops required largely by the industries within and outside the basin.

Declining production and productivity of food grain crop in the rain-fed areas due to degradation of soil, soil nutrients, soil erosion as the collective endogenous initiatives are replaced by the individualistic exogenous policy initiatives.

An island of affluence limited to less than 5 per cent of the region and less 10 percent of population.

Declining ground water levels leading to struggle for drinking water and emergence of "exploitative" water markets. Cultivation of export oriented crops and over extraction has made drinking water a scarce and a commercial commodity.

2.3. Options availabl

Widespread poverty can be addressed effectively only when the quantum and temporal distribution of water available for farming is enhanced. It cannot be achieved by building more dams but rather by conserving, storing and utilising water judiciously for sustainable livelihoods.

An effective collection and distribution of total quantum of water within the basin only can enhance sustainability measured as livelihood per unit of water should be high.

Decentralized (existing) water bodies which buffer droughts and floods, have silted up. This has happened by the absence of power to the people and multiple point and multi-body governmental control.

3. Who Needs a Water Policy

It is the resource poor farmers of the present and the future. Any further efforts in the river valley will be of little use

Women who cannot effectively carry out their day to day activities without freely accessible water for household activities.

The farming community who do not have any access to irrigation facilities and are totally dependent on rain-fed farming.

4. Potential Impact of Policy

Harvests, conserves and utilises water for sustainable livelihood rather than for non-sustainable exportable crops.

Enhances livelihood options within the basin in terms of food and water for daily needs, employment and resource recycling.

Promises livelihood to over 90% of the population within the basin.

Enhances productivity in 85% of land in the basin.

Avoids misinterpretation of the policy in favour of localised and specific target to enhance the macro-level economic indicators. The focus will be on those who have spread out far and wide within the basin and in favour of indicators that enhances collective sustainability.

Protects the resource destruction due to "focused development" such as salinity of land, depletion of ground water, soil degradation and nutrient depletion.

Handing over the management of resources to users or the community. This empowers the community or collective to expand and develop flexible methodologies for wider coverage and risk minimisation.

5. VISION: Charity begins at home (the peasants believe so).

Conservation efforts on farmers land in order to minimise the wide spread of poverty within the basin, conserve all possible rain on the field. This is necessary because the rainfall is erratic and limited to more or less four major rains in the crop season. It is then essential to make this water available to enhance the productivity from land to meet the livelihood needs.

To check the runoff leading to soil erosion, depletion of soil fertility and nutrient loss. The vision is oriented towards arresting the rain water to where it rains and store it within the vicinity of the field to enable changes in the micro environment and to protect ground water as a resource for minimising the risks during exigencies.

Restoration of original functions of water bodies to serve the livelihood requirements of the entire community rather than to serve the specific group or specific productive purposes.

To develop management systems that are people friendly and empower the target group. Institutional structures be developed for effective distribution, sustainability of water bodies and sustainable livelihood management systems. These institutional structures should have sufficiently flexible policies so that they can address contextual demands of the collective or the community.

The institutional structures needs be developed and identified on the "hydrological unit" basis in order to manage all water resources common property resource and to prioritise water for livelihood needs.


Shift policy from river valley to integrated river basin management.

Promote local initiatives for endogenous self-reliance and empowerment in resource management.

Protect ground water as common property resource requiring local control.

Protect local water bodies as common property resource requiring local level management.