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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Brian Bromwich

A sustainability review of 150 years of irrigation in India with particular reference to Uttar Pradesh

This thesis is concerned with the development of Indian irrigation over the past 150 years as a means of avoiding famine and improving agricultural production. Since independence in 1947, the Indian population has more than trebled and now stands at over 1 billion. The development of irrigation is essential to feed the expanding population.

The problems of management of large irrigation canal systems are discussed together with the government policy of subsidising agricultural inputs. The meteoric increase of tubewell irrigation since the 1960s, much of it financed by the private sector, has provided a more reliable alternative to surface sources for many farmers. Problems of groundwater depletion, waterlogging and salination are also discussed together with possible remedies. The issues of global warming and its effects on Indian irrigation due to possible changed seasonal flow patterns of the Himalayan rivers are presented.

The effects of irrigation development on marginal farmers, especially in eastern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where poor farmers cultivate less than one hectare are described.

In conclusion, a number of recommendations have been put forward. There is a pressing need for far-reaching institutional reform to establish Water User Associations with full authority to manage both financial and technical aspects of main systems and distribution networks of irrigation projects. In addition, improved governance is required to regulate aquifer depletion and make appropriate small-scale pumping technology available to marginal farmers.