Irrigation infrastructure: a view from below - the case of the Tungabhadra river

The study seeks to link up the larger politics of inter- state and intra state conflicts with critical questions on water availability and the river’s changed potential

The case study of the irrigation infrastructure of Tungabhadra river zooms in on the river, to examine the various schemes on it. Taking the particular case of the Tungabhadra in the Krishna river basin and following the river flow as it is subject to various schemes in time and space, it shows how simmering tensions are likely to manifest as full-fledged conflicts. 

The report is structured chronologically beginning with the 1950s when various river valley development projects were taken up. After describing the plans and designs of the 50s, it outlines their functioning in the next four decades briefly. It then examines the water  schedule  and  delivery  in  the  main  canals  of  some  schemes  along  the  Tungabhadra  River  during  the  monsoons of 2003 and 2004. It has relied on various kinds of accessible public information and points to serious information and data gaps involved in analysing water resource schemes. 

The Tungabhadra is a major tributary of the Krishna River in South India.  The 250 km stretch of river - beginning at the Tungabhadra Dam and leading to the confluence of the river with the Krishna River receives the most attention here. The  conflicts  on  and  condition of the Tungabhadra Dam’s main canals, the  Rajolibanda  anicut,  and  the  Sunkesula  anicut  (KC  canal) are examined in detail. Other schemes on the river – various mini-hydel projects and lift irrigation projects under construction and in operation during these two years (2003 – 2005) – are also discussed. 

In  this  process,  deeper  insights  into  the  economic,  political and technical compulsions of operating and  maintaining  riverine  schemes have been brought  to  light.  These include –

  • The form of water conflicts between upstream and downstream users, 
  • Nature and effect of users’ struggle for major canal repair and tail-end supply,  
  • The selective nature of political involvement, and 
  • Exacerbation of conflicts over mini-hydel and lift irrigation schemes being constructed.  

The study tries to highlight the current situation with  respect to decision making by describing the day to  day running  of  the  canals  over  two  years  in considerable detail. 

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