The British Colonial rule systematically broke the traditional system of community management of irrigation tanks in various parts of India. While taking Madras Compulsory Labor Act of 1858 as an example, discuss why the practices such as Kudimaramath did not flourish despite of state legislations.

Published: August 25, 2017

Since ancient times, water management In India had been in the hands of local communities. Prior to Britishers, water management in South India was done through a system called “Kudimaramath” which means self-repair(maintenance by contributed labor). Britishers, for their economic interest, broke the backbone of local autonomy. They introduced the concept of private property & there was a total control over natural resources like land, forest, water. They discontinued the state financial support for maintenance of local waterworks. Management of water tanks was transferred from rural managers to PWD. Due to change of management & funding scarcity, Such water conservation projects later disappeared.

In 1858 Britishers passed Madras compulsory labor act of 1858 which is also known as Kudimaramath Act. The act made it mandatory for the peasants to provide labor for the maintenance of irrigation systems. However, since it was based on self-management and not on the basis of coercion, there was a lack of community participation.

Post-Independence too, successive governments failed in their attempts to revive the ‘Kudimaramath’ works. Now Tamil Nadu government is planning to rejuvenate defunct small water bodies by reviving the age-old practice of ‘Kudimaramath’. However such initiative will succeed only if local communities & panchayats instead of PWD will play a pivot role in the exercise.

Water storage capacity of such as is quite huge, therefore, this potential should be utilized cost effective method of repairing and restoring the tanks and other water bodies should be given priority. Management responsibility should be given to the beneficiaries of Panchayat, the participation of farmers is essential for the success of such initiatives.

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