The Indian Irrigation System
In a country like England, which has a heavy rainfall, the problem of the farmer is to get the excess water off his land. The important question there is drainage. In a dry country like India, which depends upon the monsoon (an uncertain factor), the problem is to get the water onto land, and keep it. The important question here is irrigation. For a failure of the monsoon means drought, the interruption of agriculture for nearly a year, and famine.
Irrigation in India is carried on by means of tanks, wells, and canals.
A tank is an artificial reservoir for catching and keeping the rain water. Most of the tanks, some very large, are to be found in Southern India, many of them constructed by the ancient Indian Kings. They are useful; but their chief fault is that they generally run dry just when they are most wanted – that is, during a drought.
Wells are found all over, and are of great use, especially where the sub-soil water is near the surface, as it is in Punjab. Different parts of India use different methods of raising the water from the wells, as the Persian-wheel in Punjab, the inclined plane in the Uttar Pradesh, etc.
But the most important means of irrigation is by canals. The most wonderful system of canal irrigation in the world is that of Punjab. Punjab is watered by five main rivers (hence its name); but formerly most of the water of these rivers flowed away to the sea, leaving large tracts of fertile land un-watered and so uncultivated. The precious river water is now caught and distributed by a vast and intricate system of canals all over the state; so that thousands of acres of land, formerly desert, now produce crops of enormous value, and independently of rainfall. It is a great engineering feat, and an incalculable blessing to the poor farmers, and to the whole of India.