Impact of World Bank Funded Irrigation Projects in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Odisha

This study examined the impact of nine World Bank funded irrigation projects across Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Odisha.


Agricultural water management (AWM) has been recognized as a critical issue in India’s food security, and has been one of the main recipients of public funds. It has also received a significant amount of international donor funds. The study was part of a joint FAO and World Bank research effort that aimed at taking stock of World Bank-supported irrigation projects across the states of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. 


The study had two components: (1) A Desk review which included the analysis of World Bank documents (Project Appraisal, Mid-term Review, Implementation Completion Report, etc) which investigates the economic, social and institutional impacts of completed projects and changes that are sought to be ushered in by ongoing projects. (2) Qualitative Field Work component in the states of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Orissa to provide ground-truths to the desk review.

The qualitative field component sought to investigate the various dimensions of Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) – specifically the functioning of Water User Associations (WUAs) and improvements (if any) in the distribution of water and benefits (farm and non-farm) to water users. In Tamil Nadu, one major irrigation project (The Perambikulam Aliyar Project in the districts of Coimbatore and Erode) and two tank systems in Kanchipuram were chosen. In Maharashtra and Orissa, two medium irrigation projects were chosen. To capture the distributional benefits of irrigation projects, based on consultations with officials at the Department of Water Resources (DoWR) in Chennai, Mumbai and Bhubaneshwar, WUAs located at the head, middle and tail locations were chosen and within each of these a village located in the head and tail was chosen. 

Key Findings

Experience from the sample projects indicates that it takes at least three years of continued financial, technical and institutional support for WUAs to reach an acceptable level of self-sustainability. Thereafter, support should always be available to WUAs. To this end, permanent capacity needs to be built within government, for example in the Water Resources Department (WRD), to monitor WUAs and provide support and training as needed at any time.

The experiences of the water resources consolidation projects in Orissa and Tamil Nadu suggest that extended policy dialogue with government stakeholders before project launch is essential to ensuring project success in implementing PIM and reorganizing irrigation departments. 

One of the most common lessons from older World Bank-supported projects is that a component on agricultural productivity enhancement for irrigated area needs to be integrated with PIM and institutional reform components from project inception. While results from individual projects are mixed in terms of economic performance, according to most accounts the Bank portfolio has for the most part had a satisfactory performance mainly through some influence on state level institutions in the so-called “reforming states”. 


Findings from the study have important implications for the conceptualisation and funding of similar projects by multilaterial agencies. The study also highlights the need for a more comprehensive approach towards investment in irrigation projects, including technical assistance and greater emphasis on capacity building for state and non-governmental actors, institutional support to farmers and water users organizations. 

Thematic Area

Institutions and Society

Project Leads

David Fuente, Kadambari Anantram


Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Odisha


World Bank