In National Water Policy (2002), a participatory approach to water resources management was emphasised, by involving not only various governmental agencies but also the users and other stakeholders, in an effective and decisive manner in various aspects of planning, design, development, and management of the water resources schemes.
Water User Associations (WUA) and local institutions such as Panchayats and urban local bodies should be involved in the operation, maintenance, and management of water infrastructures and facilities at appropriate levels progressively and with a view to eventually transfer the whole management of such facilities to the user (farmer) groups or local bodies.
Water User Associations (WUAs) are farmer groups created with the objective of improving farmers’ access to irrigation water resources. In India there is diverse variety of WAUs in terms of registration, type of promoter, legal backup, and extent of powers and functions vested by the state and so on. In India, there are WUAs promoted by the State, Gram Panchayat or NGOs or groups formed by farmers themselves. WUAs provide farmers of different size category a platform to come together and work as a group with the concerned irrigation authorities so that as a group they are able to serve individual farmers’ needs better.
There is a long mandate of activities and functions to be undertaken by WAUs. These functions include acquisition and distribution of water; maintenance and repairs; fixation and collection of water charges; punishing defaulters within the areas of the WUA; and resolving disputes among water users in the area of operation. In many states, WUAs have been created through separate and enabling laws. These states include Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and so on.
Challenges and Way Forward
Robust and efficient functioning of these WUAs is challenged by several constraints; such as, lack of legal back up, uncertainty of water availability, lack of financial viability, technical knowledge and leadership, inadequate training and capacity development, diverse nature and characteristics of members, lack of coordination between WUAs and other local institutions and stakeholders.
However, the key to efficient functioning of these WUAs is active involvement of all members and work in close coordination with all other institutions, rising from self and vested interests.