When the colonial government began building large run-of-the-river irrigation systems in northern and North-western India (which included the present Pakistan) in the early 19th century, these led to the decline in the tradition of well irrigation in Uttar Pradesh but stimulated it in North-western India.
During the latter half of the 20th century, these canal-irrigated areas led the charge in creating South Asia's groundwater boom, resulting in a widely held belief that large-scale tube well irrigation development occurs only in canal-irrigated areas. There was a time perhaps when this was largely true; however, the groundwater reality of South Asia has transcended this stage. In fact, as Figs 2.7 and 2.8 show, the density of tube wells - and groundwater irrigation in India and Pakistan Punjab - seems to have less to do with availability of surface water for recharge than with population pressure on agriculture. The figures show that tube well density is high throughout the Gangetic basin in India, which does have high groundwater availability but also very high population density. However, tube well density in Pakistan Punjab is highest in the most densely populated districts (Qureshi et al., 2003). It is also high in many other parts of India such as Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka where water resources are limited but population density is high. On the other hand, in many parts of central India, little of the available resource is developed; yet tube well density is low because these regions are sparsely populated (DebRoy and Shah, 2003). China too has a similar pattern: groundwater development is low in South China, which has abundant surface water and low population density (except in the eastern coastal region); but tube well densities are high in the North China Plain, which has low surface water resource and high population density. Compared to large public irrigation projects that are driven by hydrologic opportunity, groundwater development is democratic, providing irrigation wherever people are.
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