ABSTRACT

Chapter 10 , deliberately choosing detail over generalised statistics, is a close examination of 11 villages in Shahabad district, 1868–82. It describes the effects, mainly on cropping patterns but also life-choices, of irrigation provided from a government canal system. Explaining that such irrigation attracted much attention from contemporary officials and is disputed among subsequent scholars, the chapter shows a variety of responses among Shahabad villagers and less-than-perfect fit between expectations of canal engineers and those of local consumers of canal-water. The detailed information also informs discussions of conditions in Bihar’s villages in other chapters: assessing development measures by understanding the nature of rural society, landed property and agriculture. Further information is provided in the chapter on ways land was held, on existing and evolving socio-economic norms, on farming practice and on production of commercial crops. Very detailed data are included on rents, soils, seasons, cropping patterns, marketing, costs and credit. Access to canal-water is argued to have increased winter-rice and sugarcane production, improving living standards and nutrition for some without necessarily providing surplus for investment: change occurred in ways encouraged by existing customs and information. A final section provides comparisons and conclusions about socio-economic effects of canal irrigation.