Government of Tmail Nadu, India

Government of Tamil Nadu 
Water Resources Organisation
Public Works Department (PWD)
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150 Years of PWD :


The Public Works Department of Tamil Nadu which was established in the year 1858 by Lord Dalhousie has turned 150 years. This department has over the years, undergone several structural and organizational changes to be in tune with changes in the political and administrative systems and with pace and orientation in the developmental activities.

The Public Works Department prior to 1858, fragmented under different names was functioning under the control of different departments. It was in 1850, the first Public Works Reforms Commission was constituted under the orders of the Court of Directors in England, to study the then existing system and suggest a suitable form of the department for its effective functioning. Based on the recommendations of this Commission, the Madras Public Works Department was formed in the year 1858 under one Chief Engineer with three Inspecting Engineers, twenty District Engineers,       seventy-eight Executive Engineers and Assistant Engineers, two hundred and four Upper Subordinates and seven hundred and fourteen Lower Subordinates.

Later in the year 1870, a Public Works Commission was appointed, the second in the series to consider the expediency in reorganizing the Public Works Department. Based on the recommendations of the Commission, one District Engineer for each Collector to ensure better co-operation between Revenue Department and Public Works Department was appointed. Further, the minor irrigation works were deleted from the scope of Revenue Department. The minor irrigation works not requiring professional skill were entrusted to the ryots themselves for which a rotation of assessment in the form of remission of revenue was granted for meeting the maintenance cost of such works. Simultaneously, the revival of “Coodimaramut” or unpaid village labour of ryots was brought about by legal enactment. This can be termed as the forerunner to the present system of Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM).  The then enactment is similar to the present Tamil Nadu Farmers Management Irrigation System Act, 2000.

Through the years of evolution, the administration of the Department and the Engineering Services in general have been well streamlined. This may be seen as inherited from the British rulers who did extremely well in prescribing procedures, defining authority, making rules, preparing codes, manual and enacting laws. The Madras Detailed Standard Specifications, the Madras Account Code, the Public Works Department Code are some of them still in use and very relevant in administration. The Public Works system of Accounts is still considered to be the best and foolproof. Such a system is essential in an area where public money is spent and every paise is to be accounted for.

During the post-independent period, on account of enormous developmental schemes under the Five Year Plans and remarkable increase in the construction activities, it was necessary for the Public Works Department to shed some of its responsibilities to be taken over by independent organizations and this necessity started even as early as in 1946. Following the resolutions of the Indian Roads Congress held in Nagpur in 1945, a massive programme for expansion and development of the National and State Highways was drawn and the Madras State had, therefore, to immediately form a separate department to be in charge of the roads. Later by the Madras Act No.17 of 1961, the State Housing Board was formed to execute housing and improvement schemes throughout the State. This restricted the building activities in the Public Works Department to the public buildings alone, viz educational, medical, judicial, institutional and so on.

With the fast emerging urbanization and urban centers, and intensification of activity to launch drinking water and sewerage schemes and with the avowed policy of the Government to provide safe drinking water to all the villages, a separate Public Health and Municipal Works Department was constituted in 1962. This has later become Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Sewerage Board in 1971.

In the year 1967, the then Government of Tamil Nadu carried out a re-organisation of the entire Department particularly to shape administrative structure and to have territorial jurisdiction coinciding with the revenue administration units like the districts, rather than to continue the functional divisions. The re-organisation was implemented by 1969. This in course of time, further underwent some changes where special divisions under the control of Superintending Engineers were formed to execute large projects.

For a long time till recently both buildings and irrigation activities continued to be under the same Department in Tamil Nadu, unlike in most other States, where the Irrigation Departments are functioning separately with the Buildings and Roads forming a separate unit. In February 2008, the Public Works Department was formally bifurcated by carving out Water Resources Department to attend exclusively to irrigation works. Public Works Department will continue to attend to construction of public buildings and their maintenance. The objective of this bifurcation is to enable the Departments gain specialization and expertise to in the respective fields.

Presently there are four territorial regions each headed by one Chief Engineer, four specialty functional units i.e., Ground Water; Operation and Maintenance; Plan Formulation; Design, Research and Construction Support; each under the control of one Chief Engineer in the Water Resources Department. This apart the Institute of Water Studies headed by a Chief Engineer will help the Department in carrying out water balance studies. The Irrigation Management Institute at Tiruchirappalli established in 1984 for running regular training programmes for the farmers as well as serving Engineers and others, will also be under the administrative control of the Water Resources Department.

The Public Works Department in charge of construction of Public Buildings and their maintenance in the State is headed by one Chief Engineer under whom the Electrical Wing and Architecture Wing will continue to function.

The Public Works Department through its long innings of 150 years has created invaluable capital assets including irrigation infrastructure in the form of dams, reservoirs, tanks canals etc. The monuments and public buildings constructed are priceless. Some of these stand as a lasting testimony to the technical expertise, professional competence, devotion and commitment of the Department. A few of these are the Dams, Reservoirs and anicuts like Mettur, Bhavani, Manimuthar, Amaravathi, Vaigai, Parambikulam, Sathanur, Palar, Ponnai, Tirukoilur, Srivaikundam etc; Buildings like Presidency College, University Senate House, High Court, Madras Law College,  District Courts, Collectorates, Hospitals, etc. and other monumental buildings.

The irrigation infrastructure comprising mainly 75 Dams, 10540 Tanks, 4429 km length of Canals etc., that has been created helps meet the crop water requirement of nearly 33 lakh hectares of gross irrigated area in the State. The Water Resources Organisation of the Public Works Department has proved to be the lifeline of the farming community by constantly upgrading and maintaining the vast irrigation infrastructure and ensuring the efficient use of water to the last drop.

Apart from this, the services rendered by the Department in times of natural calamities like monsoon rains and floods and cyclones are remarkable.

The Department has undertaken several international funded projects like the EEC assisted Periyar-Vaigai Sytem Improvement Project, World Bank assisted Water Resources Consolidation Project, Hydrology Project, Irrigated Agriculture Modernisation and Water bodies Restoration and Management (IAMWARM) Project, etc., As one of the main objectives of this Department has been to improve irrigation service delivery, this is planned mainly through adoption of participatory irrigation management. There are 1566 water users Associations (WUAs) elected through democratic process who are already in place. In addition to this 2556 WUAs are being formed now. Tamil Nadu is the pioneer in the country in introducing river basin boards for Palar and Tambaraparai with planning in a River Basin framework.