Death of Kuhl Irrigation System of Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh: Institutional Arrangements and Technological Options for Revival

The analysis of three Kangra kuhl irrigation networks suggest that these irrigation systems, though under stress during the seventies, were still operative and persisting till late eighties and supporting predominantly the age old paddy cultivation practices in the area. The kuhl irrigation system gradually came under acute stress during nineties and became almost defunct. Each kuhl is governed by a set of rules and the institutional arrangements of kuhl network demands more participatory labour, rather male labour intensive activities for the sustainability of the system. The opportunity of non-farm employment to the water users in the area rendered the kuhl irrigation system with declining participation of the communities and to virtual collapse of the system. The paddy lands are now without irrigation water in the kuhls. Water User Associations lacked motivation and resources as well as recognition. The emergence of land allottees, migrants and the establishments of new households and the institutions in the area for water use from the Government or local authority triggered the initiation of the stress in kuhl network in the 1970s. The non-farm employment and the male power outflux resulted in poor water enforcement of water rights within the village. The supplementary irrigation sources could not be maintained and the paddy cultivation started declining and ultimately has gone out of cultivation. Farmers adjustments are in the form of keeping land fallow during kharif. Wheat cultivation as rabi crop has been mechanised with the entry of small tractors for sowing of wheat crop. Kharif fallows have given rise to dairying enterprise with one or two jersey cows. The per capita milk production and availability of milk has increased on these households. Kuhl system induced farm mechanisation in favour of dairying has taken place displacing paddy cultivation. The adverse environmental effects are in terms of low availability and the availability of downstream as supplementary source of irrigation has dwindled. Kuhls used to run on 340 to 350 days annually on their own in 1989 have been running only for 25 to 50 days under strict watch and ward at the actual user level in mid- and lower clusters. The Government efforts has resulted in the creation of new middle cluster in these kuhl networks without ensuring the running the system. The vegetable cultivation at small scale is being supported by ground water/hand pumps meant for drinking water. With the defunct of the kuhl water systems, increasing stress is on the use of ground water. Even in this sorry state of affairs, the Government has taken over the authority of two kuhls and made the kuhls concrete/pucca. The difficult route of kuhl has been made smooth with the concretisation but there is no water availability. Mere concretisation of kuhl is the wastage of MGNREGA funds. Alternative rules and arrangements need to be framed for participation, water use and adequate sensitisation of users in ensuring its continuous flow. The kuhls need arrangements for making water flow regular. Since paddy cultivation has gone out of scene, the water rights need to be redefined. The rights for continuous flow of the water has no relevance at present time, the rotational pattern for water use even for paddy crop would also help in sustaining the system and ensuring cultivation of agricultural lands. The kuhl committees also need to be advised on sound ecological principles to agree to these terms to ensure the survival of the kuhl system. The creation of joint storage capacity at diversion sites for contiguous networks and generation of water based non-farm employment opportunities would help in the revival of the system on sustainable basis.

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Journal Article
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Indian Journal of Agricultural Economics, Volume 70, Number 3
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JEL Codes:
Q11; Q15; Q16

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2018-01-23

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