Reclaiming Water Governance in Tank Network of Veppur Block
Between Vellar and Chinnar rivers, there are 10 small and big tanks located in Veppur block, interconnected with one another. They are fed water by channels from Vellar and finally water drains into Chinnar. Approximately 2500 acres of ayacut depend on these tanks for irrigation. Over a period of many years, due to improper maintenance or no maintenance, slowly the tanks and the ayacut area have got shrunk. Neither the government nor the community worries about it though the livelihood of hundreds of farmers is dependent on these tanks. The whole physical infrastructure and the human involvement have slowly got degenerated and the situation seems to be grim as of now. The tank network system is nobody’s baby except the involvement of farmers in few pockets.
We have done a detailed background study of 10 tanks during Feb-May.2016 on the history of tanks, extent of tank and channels, past renovation initiatives, collection of maps, issues in physical infrastructure and people’s involvement, agriculture context of the area etc. The study report is being finalised. Field level interaction with farmers, visit to tanks, meeting VAOs and WRD officials etc., were used as methods of the study.
Levels of engagement
The detailed study of all 10 tanks convinces us that the tank network has to be considered as a single system to work with, though attention to be given to each of the tanks separately. On one hand, at ayacut village level, mobilising and sensitising the farmers are initiated, while on the other hand, a movement at regional level is being facilitated. Both pressurising the government agencies to act and doing actual renovation work on the field (atleast few repair and renovation works to start with) are part of the initiative and will go hand in hand.
The broad objectives of the initiative are as follows
- Getting tanks renovated with government and people’s participation and contribution-building on PuP partnership
- Creating a cadre of change agents at village and regional level
- Bring in proper governance of water (esp. distribution and water efficiency) including change in cropping pattern, by volunteers with the support of farmers in the village
- Slowly empowering the farmers to take control of water governance and maintenance of tanks
- Increase in ayacut acreage
- Slowly introduce organic farming in irrigated agriculture and facilitate a network of farmers around it.
Bird’s eye view of the tank network
Building on the movement
Based on the study, we have finalised 5 of the ayacuts (Agraharam, Vadakkalur, Keezhaperambalur, Kaiperambalur & Ogalur) to work with this year. Except Ogalur, in each of the ayacut villages, mobilising farmers and initiating a discussion with them to build on a larger network of farmers/volunteers at regional level is being facilitated (In Ogalur, we have initiated our work last year by cleaning a pond and interacted with tank ayacut farmers. Hence we have some base already).
Following village level consultations, petitions were given to Collector, signed by tens of farmers demanding renovation and repair works. We have also had a one day workshop with ayacut farmers of these 5 tanks on 27th Aug.2018. We have taken them to Parambur Tank irrigation association (successfully managed by farmersfor over 30 years) in Pudukkottai district, the next day, 28th 2016.
Perambalur Dist. Collector has invited us to give a presentation to the officials on the initiative and its vision and he suggested for a joint meeting with representatives of ayacut farmers. The District Collector, WRD officials, Panchayat leaders, Chairman and other concerned officials will be involved in the long term. The idea is to build on a PuP (Public-Public) partnership.
To bring in shifts in the perspectives, a set of need based workshops, will be organised for the volunteers to understand the politics around water, water context of the district, Tamil Nadu etc.
Irrigation Farmers Associations for each of the tanks and a federation at regional level are planned. Farmers are already showing interest in this regard after visiting Parambur association which excels in equitable water supply.
Methodology of the Campaign
Consultations with and representations to the district administration, WRD etc.; meetings at the village and regional level; publicising the demands and issues through Press, documentary film and booklets; protests, processions etc., are part of the larger campaign to reclaim the governance of tank network.
Renovation as a model
Though demanding government agencies to renovate tanks with public participation and contribution, till the government responds and acts, we can adopt a tank to start our renovation works from next summer using shramdhan and machinery. NREGS can also be linked to this work by convincing the Panchayat, concerned officials and NREGS workers. Funds can be mobilised from the people of the hamlet we work with and from cloud funding from outside world.
As of now we are planning for few repair works of sluices and renovation of channels (varaththu vaikkal) before the NE monsoons, this year.
The idea of adopting and renovating a tank is to challenge the government in a way to act. Any further work by the government will be strengthened and monitored by people’s participation. The real challenge will be to bring in PuP in water governance. From the beginning BA will be a part of this PuP till there is a need.
Documentation is being done simultaneously as the process evolves. It includes notes, reports, photos and videos. The material will be used to reflect the process at a regular interval to improve on the same. It will also feed into the FB, website, articles etc.
We are planning to publish the study report as a booklet in Tamil (English as a pdf document) soon which can be used as a campaign material to mobilise farmers and publicise the issue. Based on the information available, a short film/ documentary is also planned with the help of student volunteers who have done few documentaries already (Spoken with a set of students in Coimbatore who are technically sound and are willing to help us). This documentary (in Tamil with English subtitles) will be used as a campaign tool too.
Interfacing with outer world
Major developments will be updated on a FB page, specifically created for this purpose both in Tamil and English. The material will be uploaded in our website too. Press will also be used as a main tool to communicate the issues, concerns and major developments of the initiative. Articles will also be written from time to time when there is a need. Starting with a documentary film, videos or short films will also be used as tools to communicate issues, concerns and developments.
It would require minimum 2-3 years to show a meaningful change. Milestones have to be fixed as we continue to proceed. But by end of Dec.2016, we can surely ensure some demonstrable work going on, on the field.