Gradual development of irrigation in India-

Irrigation in ancient India-

The history of development of irrigation in India can be traced back to prehistoric times. In an agrarian economy like India, irrigation has played a major and crucial role. Vedas and ancient Indian scriptures made references to wells, canals, tanks and dams which were beneficial to the community. Indus Civilization flourished on the banks of rivers and the water was harnessed for sustenance of life. The irrigation technologies during the Indus Valley Civilization were in the form of small and minor works like digging wells, which were operated by households to irrigate small patches of land and did not require a collective effort. Nearly all the irrigation technologies prevalent then still exist in India with little technological change and are continued to be used by households in rural areas.

In south, perennial irrigation began with construction of the Grand Anicut by the Cholas as early as second century to provide water for irrigation from the Cauvery/Kaveri River. The central and southern India is studded with numerous irrigation tanks which have been traced back to many centuries before the beginning of the Christian era. In northern India too there are a number of small canals in the upper valleys of rivers which are very old.

Irrigation in Medieval India-

In medieval India, rapid advances took place in the construction of canals. Water was blocked by constructing bunds across steams. This raised the water level and canals were constructed to take the water to the fields. Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq (1220-1250) is credited to be the first ruler who encouraged digging canals. However, it is Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1351-86) who, inspired from central Asian experience, is considered to be the greatest canal builder before the nineteenth century. As agricultural income was the pillar of the economy, irrigation systems were paid special attention during this period.

Irrigation in British India-

Irrigation development during British rule began with the renovation, improvement and extension of existing works. The Government also ventured into new projects, like the Upper Ganga Canal, the Upper Bari Doab Canal and Krishna and Godavari Delta Systems. Few seminal projects undertook by British Government in India includes major canal works like the Sirhind, the Lower Ganga, the Agra and the Mutha Canals, and the Periyar Dam and canals.

During this period India witnessed few major famines of her entire life so better irrigation system became mandatory to combat with crops failure due to natural disasters. Significant protective works constructed during the period were the Betwa Canal, the Nira Left Bank Canal, the Gokak Canal, the Khaswad Tank and the Rushikulya Canal.

Irrigation at time of Independence-

The net irrigated area in the Indian sub continent, comprising the British Provinces and Princely States, at the time of Independence was about 28.2 m. ha. The partition of the country resulted in the apportionment of the irrigated area between the two countries; net irrigated area in India and Pakistan being 19.4 m. ha and 8.8 m. ha respectively. Major canal systems, including the Sutlej and Indus systems went to Pakistan. East Bengal, now Bangladesh, which comprises the fertile Ganga Brahmaputra delta region, also went to Pakistan. The irrigation works which remained with India, barring some of the old works in Uttar Pradesh and in the deltas of the South, were mostly of protective nature, and meant more to ward off famine than to produce significant yields.

Irrigation development after Independence-

India always remained an agrarian economy. So to achieve set targets of economic development, GIO assigned responsibility of irrigation development to Union Ministry of Water Resources. Union Ministry came with copious of initiatives from time to time on water resources development and for technical assistance to the states on irrigation, multipurpose projects, ground water exploration and exploitation, command area development, drainage, flood control, water logging, sea erosion problems, dam safety and hydraulic structures for navigation and hydropower. It also oversees the regulation and development of inter-State rivers. These functions are carried out through various Central Organizations. Urban water supply and sewage disposal is handled by the Ministry of Urban Development whereas Rural Water Supply comes under the purview of Department of Drinking Water under the Ministry of Rural Development. Hydro-electric power and thermal power is the responsibility of the Ministry of Power and pollution and environment control is that of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Water being a State subject, the State Governments has primary responsibility for use and control of this resource. The administrative control and responsibility for development of water, rests with the various State Departments and Corporations. Major and medium irrigation is handled by the irrigation/water resources departments. Minor irrigation is looked after partly by water resources departments, minor irrigation corporations, Zilla Parishads/Panchayats and by other departments such as Agriculture. Urban water supply is generally the responsibility of public health departments and panchayats take care of rural water supply. Government tube wells are constructed and managed by the irrigation/water resources department or by tube well corporations set up for the purpose. Hydro-power is the responsibility of the State Electricity Boards.

Country saw a remarkable development in irrigation techniques and projects during “Green Revolution” phase in 1960s. Toady a plenty of irrigation projects are on full swing across the country. Meanwhile over a period of time, Water becomes a scared resource and “Save Water” is the current slogan of India. During last few years India witnessed a continuous decrease in level of underground water, which calls for more effective and efficient usage of Water in contemporary context

Click here to Read Hindi Poem on the need for Saving Water and Conservation written by Vikas Gupta



Filed under IAS-2010, India, UPSC-2010

7 responses to “Gradual development of irrigation in India-

  1. Tushar Nikhare

    Hi Dhankar,

    A good article on irrigation system.
    Incorporation of some current factual data would have made it much better 🙂

    With Regards,

  2. Wow, that was H2O history in a nutshell!

    Thanks for the link; that’s one of the most popular posts on my blog.

  3. Sanjay Kumar

    A good effort indeed though lacks some crucial facts of ancient n medieval India.

  4. Very useful article. I thought to let you know that you website wsan’tt getting displayed properly on android mobile web browser on my pda.

    Have a nice time…sorry for typing mistake

  5. Your article was so useful for my research… thanks for the help… keep it up

    Have a nice day….!

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