Department of Irrigation (DoI) is a government organization, with a mandate to plan, develop, maintain, operate, manage and monitor different modes of environmentally sustainable and socially acceptable irrigation and drainage systems – from small to larger scale surface systems and from individual to community groundwater schemes. Its ultimate aim is to provide year round irrigation facilities and increase the irrigable area of the country to higher limits. This giving a primary input in increasing the productivity of the land and providing a major input to the GDP and eventually improve the standard of living of the beneficiary farmers. Apart from this the DoI also has to carry out river training activities to protect the floodways, floodplains and agricultural lands in the form of river bank protection such that the loss of properties caused by flooding is reduced.

Although the construction of modern irrigation system started in Nepal in 1922 during Rana regime with Chandra Nahar, the Department of Canal was formally established in 1952 under the ministry of Construction and Communication. The department then passed different stages working under different ministries and finally ended up as Department of Irrigation in 1987. Since the establishment of Ministry of Irrigation (MoI) in 2009, DoI has been working under it.

Organizations and Institutions under DOI

DoI is one of the departments under the MoI of Government of Nepal (GoN). The Director General of DoI is supervised by Secretary of MoI. There are four divisions under the umbrella of DG in DoI. Apart from these divisions, administrative branch, financial branch and legal branch are also directly administered by DG. There are five Regional Irrigation Directorates in each region under the supervision of DG. Twenty six irrigation development division offices and twenty irrigation development sub-division offices in all regions work under the supervision of respective irrigation directorates. Besides, there are eight irrigation management divisions and 3 mechanical divisions in the structural organization (Refer the chart) of DoI.

Effort and Achievement of Irrigation Development

Out of the total 14.718 million hectare area of the country only 2.641 million hectare area is arable and 1.766 million hectare land is irrigable. 76% of potential irrigable area lies in the terai region of Nepal.

The history of irrigation in Nepal before 1922 were all developed, operated and maintained by farmers called Farmers Managed Irrigation System (FMIS). From 1922 to 1957, Government made little effort to develop irrigation infrastructures in Nepal. Chandra Nahar, Juddha Nahar, Jagadispur Jalasraya (Banganga), Phewa Bhadh are few examples of the projects developed during that period. However, irrigation infrastructure development has got high priority since 1957, the milestone of the beginning of periodic plan in Nepal.

The minor irrigation program was introduced in the second three-year development plan (1962-65) to provide low-cost-irrigation facilities to farmers within a short period of time. The program included the construction of small wells, irrigation tanks, reservoirs, pumps (lift) and other low cost irrigation facilities. Although it was planned to provide irrigation facilities to 4,455 hectares by the end of the Plan period under this program, the actual achievement was insignificant.

The Third Plan Period (1966-70) saw the countrywide implementation of the minor irrigation program with the emphasis on the participation of the beneficiaries.

The government investment in irrigation development – especially in the large-scale irrigation systems in the tarai increased tremendously from 1970 onwards. This was due to the increase in the borrowing of international capital in the form of loans and grants for the country’s overall economic development. This is clearly reflected in the surge of irrigation development targets in the subsequent five-year development plans- from the Fourth Plan (1970-75) onwards.

Until the middle of 1980s, irrigation development by the government focused largely on the construction of physical infrastructure of canals and structures, and very little attention was given to the effective management of the completed systems. Attention began to be paid to the improved management of government-operated irrigation systems from 1985 onwards. This is reflected in the implementation of a number of management-oriented projects in 1985-89: the USAID-funded Irrigation Management Project (IMP) in 1985, the Irrigation Line of Credit (ILC) in 1988 financed by the World Bank, the irrigation Sector Project (ISP) in 1988 financed by the ADB, and the Irrigation Sector Support Project (ISSP) in 1989 under the co-financing of the UNDP, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). All these projects have specifically emphasized the participatory approach to irrigation development and management of irrigation facilities. Further, following the introduction of the Basic Needs Program (BNP) in 1987, the working Policy on Irrigation Development for the fulfillment of Basic Needs’ was formulated in the early 1989.

This was immediately followed by the promulgation of the Irrigation Regulations (IR) in April 1989. These Regulations placed emphasis on the greater collaboration with water users in all phases of irrigation projects – planning, construction, operation and maintenance. The strategy of increasing farmer participation was mainly based on the recognition that government resources alone were inadequate to meet the country’s irrigation development objectives and sustain the management of government irrigation systems after their completion. The government expected to increase the rate of irrigation development and develop maximum farmers’/water users’ responsibility in the operation and maintenance of completed irrigation systems. The Irrigation Regulations gave water users, for the first time, a legal mandate to form water users’ associations in accordance with the 1976 Association Registration Act. It institutionalized the participation of actual water users in irrigation. In 1989, the action plans and policies for the turnover of small irrigation systems and the participatory management of large irrigation systems were formulated.

This was followed by the promulgation of Water Resources Act and Irrigation Policy in 1992 with the clear vision of irrigation development. Later this policy was amended in 1997 and now Irrigation Policy 2004 is in practice. Similarly Irrigation Master Plan 1990, Agriculture Perspective Plan 1995, Water Resources Strategy 2002 and National Water Plan 2005 are other few documents which guide irrigation development in Nepal.

At present, DoI is involved in the development of many irrigation projects. Sikta, Ranijamara Kulariya, Mahakali III, Babai, IWRMP, CMIASP and MIP are few examples of major activities in the implementation.

DoI is equally responsible for development of new irrigation projects and O&M of developed schemes. For the last couple of years, DoI has been working with marginalized farmers in remote areas under the program of Non Conventional Irrigation Technology Project (NITP). Similarly it has given high priority to IWRM principles while planning and developing new projects. Having realized the importance of year round irrigation, it is underway to start multipurpose inter basin water transfer project, diverting water from water surplus river to water deficit river and Bheri Babai diverion project is the first one to be implemented. In the course of development, DoI has arrived at the stage of inter basin water transfer and which is the new milestone of its achievement. However this will not be the full stop and it keeps on moving with the aim of expanding irrigation area and improving irrigation efficiency for the food security of the nation.