A case study of Dongs – The traditional water management system of the Bodo people

Bodo people have used Doongs to support agriculture for centuries. Understanding these doongs and the people

This report by  SDTT presents a case study on the traditional water management system of the bodo people in Assam and North Bengal, the dongs. Dongs are man-made structures akin to canals, to route water from available water sources, which are usually perennial, to the paddy cultivating fields. The water sources are small rivers, perennial swamps, beel, streams, etc. Dong can have a breadth of 7-15 feet on average or even more. The breadth gradually increases over the course of its flow from the source till the end point.

Usually dongs dry out naturally at the end of their course or meet other large water bodies like rivers or beels. The longest dong is reported to be of at least 10 km; however, the length of most dongs are between 2 and 5 km. It ensures provision of water for mainly wet paddy cultivation, xali variety, in cultivating lands where rainwater is not sufficient or due to higher altitude and soil type with low water retention capacity, water cannot be retained in sufficient manner otherwise.

The study makes a few pertinent points that bear implications for the future, specially for any water resource based intervention design in interface with the prevailing traditional system –

  • Where the extended arms of state institutions have failed to reach or proved to be inefficient, inequitable or detrimental in terms of economic or social parameters, the traditional system and institution has survived within the community.
  • The equity inherent within the dong system is a strong indicator of appropriate social positioning of a sustainable resource mobilisation technology and management process. The challenges for the future will be to carry over the spirit of equity and participation of this system when more efficient water management designs are created, independently or in assimilation with the existing one.
  • It also needs careful investigation whether this system is replicable elsewhere or not, given the social capital, water resources endowment, technical feasibility and need status.   

Download the report here 

 

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