How Participatory is Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM)? A Study of Water User Associations (WUAs) in Andhra Pradesh

V. Ratna Reddy, P. Prudhvikar Reddy
JEL codes: 
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.