Institutional perspectives of land reclamation operations in Punjab: a case study of the Lower Chenab Canal (East) Circle Area

The Directorate of Land Reclamation (DLR), which was set up in 1945, is a special unit of Punjab's Irrigation and Power Department for undertaking research and field operations to combat the problem of salinity. Approaching the end of five decades of existence, the directorate is yet to demonstrate its effectiveness in its assigned task; its inability to fully cope with the conditions of a fast changing irrigation environment makes this rather an illusive goal. In the selection of lands for reclamation, the Directorate is heavily dependent on the visual salinity survey (Thur Girdawari) carried out every year by the Irrigation Department's field staff. This visual survey appears to be a quick and cost-effective method of assessing surface salinity, but its exclusive use as the criterion for selection of affected land is a questionable approach. According to original departmental procedure, reclamation activities were confined to only two of the five classes of soil identified by the visual salinity survey, but the current practice of including all the types of salt-affected soils in reclamation operations has made the selection process more subjective. Surprisingly, the DLR is not using its existing laboratory facilities optimally to better identify the salt-affected lands. Soil testing in visually identified lands could also help define the reclamation operations more scientifically in addition to improving the selection methods being used. While formal procedure requires the Directorate to communicate to farmers the details of planned reclamation schemes, farmer awareness of the reclamation program seems to be poor and only a few farmers in the study area readily acknowledge agency assistance in obtaining relevant information. In practice, the proposals for reclamation schemes are often initiated by some influential farmers. It is a requirement that the amount of water made available for reclamation be over and above the design supply of a given distributary, and special reclamation outlets can be given from a distributary only on the basis that its tail will not suffer. However, the study shows no evidence to show that extra water was made available during the operation of reclamation outlets; further, tail-end shortages were observed in all the distributaries under the study. In a context where the tendency is to give scant consideration to irrigation rules and procedures, it is unlikely that the Directorate of Land Reclamation in its present form and status will succeed in implementing an extensive program of reclamation operations. For the Directorate to be effective in its legitimate functions and to make it an operationally viable and socially acceptable organizational unit, adequate policy and institutional support seem to be necessary.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-04-26

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