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| Last Updated:: 10/03/2017

Indigenous irrigation system - Dong Bandh













The farmers in the state of Assam, in general, and poorer districts of western Assam, also called Lower Assam in particular face with inadequate irrigation facilities. According to the state Agricultural Department’s ‘Profile of Agri-Horti sector of Assam’ report published in February 2013, only 30 percent of the net cropped area is under assured irrigation from both agricultural and irrigation schemes. This neglect is felt even more in the disturbed areas, now under the Bodoland Territorial Council, which gained autonomous administration in 2003 after a long ethnic conflict.





Though Assam receives over 2000 mm of annual rainfall, water continues to be a scarce resource due to the fast run-off caused by sloping terrain. Groundwater is largely inaccessible as well, and with high iron contamination, its quality also leaves much to be desired.




Notwithstanding the adversities, water-intensive paddy cultivation has survived in these conflict-ridden regions and it owes a lot to the indigenous canal systems of dongs. 





Dong Bandh system













The age-old indigenous irrigation system called dong enables the villagers to meet their water needs throughout the year but its utility is felt more during the prolonged dry winters when water becomes scarce even for drinking purposes.




The dong system has been in operation since human settlements started in the once-thickly forested area since the 1930s. Under the dong, small dams are built on a river and the water is routed through canals to paddy fields and into the household ponds.













Dongs operate on sound principles of water management, ensuring that there is no waste and water is distributed judiciously and equitably. The system is simple, and involves making a small canal from a nearby river, and it has been dug all the way to the cultivation fields. This way systematically smaller or sub channels are made to take the water to the cultivation fields.














Systematically the main canal is made from the river so that water flows through it, and after the canal reaches areas where there are fields, smaller canals are made so that water could be taken to all cultivable areas.




The committee which is responsible for the smooth running of the irrigation system is a well managed one, and it entrusts one member for each sub-canal, whose duty is to monitor the canal everyday and report to the committee about any damage or any repair which might be needed.












The tenure of the committee is one year, and the annual audit is presented every year before the monsoon, usually around the month of May to the stake holders of the system.




As a result of this well managed irrigation system, the farmers are not dependent only on the rainfall to take care of their water needs for their agriculture. 




Baksa district is one of the 27 districts of Assam state, which remains drought free because of people’s participation in the development. People of Baksa have started working on the ‘Dong Bandh’, and have created a network of canals across the 300 sq kms in the district. As a result, the entire district flourishing and benefiting around 1,49,000 farmers in the district.













According to reports of the Assam agriculture department itself, Baksa district does better in autumn cultivation than the state average, and officials of the agriculture department credits this indigenous irrigation system for this.











Cultivation of the autumn paddy, between Februarys to June is a troublesome period for the farmers of Assam due to lack of irrigation facilities, and as the period is a rainless one, it makes it difficult for farmers who don’t have access to irrigation facilities in the state.




While the dong bandh system was created before the world recognised the effects of climate change, people in Baksa see it as a prime example of how communities can work together to overcome the challenges of their environment.




Governments need to tap the rich traditional wisdoms related to water management and harvesting in different parts of the country, and work on these to further strengthen these wisdoms so that the number of beneficiaries could be increased.