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History of Irrigation Projects in India

Irrigation Project

Irrigation in India is perhaps as old as civilization. Broadly, the history of irrigation in India can be divided in following four periods:

  1. Early Period
  2. Muslim Period
  3. British period
  4. Period of planned development

1. Early Period:

  • Irrigation has been practiced in India since prehistoric times. There is reference to irrigation works in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana
  • Magasthanes gave a brief description of various irrigation works during the period of Chandra Gupta Maurya, around 300 B.C. 
  • Rock inscriptions found in Kathiawar (Gujarat) also indicates the existence of a large lake called Sudarshana Lake in the period around 300 B.C. 
  • Chola rulers of South India constructed a large number of irrigation works, especially tanks. Grand Anicut (a weir) was constructed on the river Cauvery in the second century A.D. 
  • The earliest form of irrigation India were inundation and tank irrigation. moreover well irrigation has been in use since ancient times in India. However the early works were scientifically designed and constructed. The early builders were master craftsmen and technician who used intuitive judgement in planning and construction of the irrigation work.

2. Muslim Period:
  • The Muslim rulers took keen interest in the construction of various irrigation works especially canals. Feroz Shah Tuglak constructed a number of canals from the Sutlej river and the Yamuna river in the fourteen century (A.D.). 
  • Akbar also took keen interest in the construction of the canals. He got remodeled the abandoned Feroz shah canal in the sixteen century. 
  • Shahjahan also constructed a number of new canals and remodeled the Ferozshah canal in the seventeenth century. 
  • The Eastern Yamuna canal was constructed by Mohammad Shah in the eighteenth century.

3. British Period:

  • Irrigation engineering attained great importance during the British period. The British rulers remodeled the existing canals in the nineteenth century. Efforts were made to improve and utilise existing irrigation works. A large number of new irrigation works were also constructed. 
  • Some of the important works constructed in the nineteenth century were:
  1. Western Yamuna canal, 
  2. Eastern Yamuna canal, 
  3. Cauvery Delta System, 
  4. Upper Ganga canal, 
  5. Upper Bari Doab canal, 
  6. Krishna and the Godavari Delta systems. 
  • A number of other irrigation works were also constructed during the 19th century such as Agra canal, Betwa canal, Periyar canal Khadakwasla dam, Sone canal system and Mathura canal. 
  • In 1903, the first Indian Irrigation Commission was appointed, which submitted a detailed report on irrigation works. Subsequent to the submission of the report, a large number of irrigation works were undertaken in the 20th century. The report laid stress on encouraging minor irrigation works such as wells and tanks to overcome food shortage due to reccurrent famines. 
  • A number of major irrigation works such as were constructed:
  1. Godavari Canal,  
  2. Sarda Canal, 
  3. the Krishna Sagar Dam, 
  4. the Nizam Sagar Dam, 
  5. Mettur Dam, 
  6. Eastern canal, 
  7. Gang canal, 
  8. Damodar canal and 
  9. Tribeni canal 

4. Period of Planned Development:

  • The period after independence of the country may be classified as period of planned development.
  • When partition of India took pace in 1947, about one third of the irrigated area went to Pakistan and only two-thirds remained with India was 22.6 million hectare. The area was insufficient to grow crops for its large population. Consequently, there was food shortage. Large scale efforts were made to increase agricultural production and ti develop irrigation schemes. A large number of irrigation and multi purpose projects were undertaken during the various five year plans, beginning from 1951.

  • Some of the major projects include:
  1. Nagarjuna Sagar Project (Andhra Pradesh)
  2. Gandak and koshi (Bihar)
  3. Mahi and Ukai (Gujarat)
  4. Tungbhadra (Karnataka)
  5. Chambal (Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan)
  6. Hirakund (Orissa)
  7. Bhakhra Nanglal (Punjab)
  8. Indira Gandhi canal (Rajasthan)
  9. Ram Ganga (Uttar Pradesh)
  10. Damodar valley Project (West Bengal) etc.
  • With the completion of the various projects upto the end of the 7th five year plan (upto 1990), Irrigation facilities have been extended to an area of about 71 Mha and India has become self sustained in agricultural products.