Does Decentralized Management of Irrigation ensure Efficient Use of Water? Evidence from India

In this project, we will determine whether and how decentralized management of irrigation systems in India may help achieve efficient extraction and distribution of water in agriculture. Our goal in this project is to shed light on the institutional mechanisms behind efficient management of water use in irrigation and thereby understanding how we can manage this crisis better.

Water is one of the most precious natural resources required for human existence, and yet availability of water for production as well as consumption has increasingly become difficult, especially in the developing world. In most states in India the irrigation systems are managed centrally by the state controlled agencies. However, certain states in India have begun the process of decentralizing the operation and management of various types of irrigation systems by constituting local bodies known as “Pani Panchayats” (PP) or Water User Associations (WUAs). In Orissa and other states, specific laws enable farmers’ participation in irrigation management, with locally elected PP councils who are in charge of the operation and maintenance of the irrigation system pertaining to the area.

The project uses the case of the PP in the Indian state of Orissa to investigate if decentralization leads to better use of water in agriculture. The two primary research objectives are:

  1. To determine and quantify the benefits of decentralizing the irrigation system in terms of slowing down of groundwater depletion, improvement of agricultural productivity, and reduction of the sensitivity of agricultural production to groundwater depletion;
  2. To shed light on whether electoral incentives work in favour or against achieving efficiency of water use, and therefore, whether increase of tenure length of the PP members affects in any particular direction the effect of decentralization on the outcomes.

The project uses the ‘difference-in-difference method’ to test if the constitution of PPs led to better use of water in an area, and if it resulted in reduction in poverty and inequality in farmers’ income. We will conduct a primary survey across 150 PPs covering 3000 farmers, complemented by in-depth interviews with farmers and elected members, and administrative data from the Department of Water Resources of the Government of Orissa.

Das, Sabyasachi

Project status
Project | 1 May 2020