this summary of chapter on canals from book “India in 1880” by Richard Temple
In India of 1880, irrigation did not posses overwhelming importance as other parts the world. Whole region had an abundance of rain on which agriculture used to rely. Even drought affected area were able to produce dry-crops (crops not relying on artificial irrigation.). Markets were always glutted with grain. Area where snow-fed rivers were flowing, there were hardly any canals built.
Primary supplement to rain was not canals but wells. Yes, wells were not limited for drinking water but agriculture irrigation. For example, wheat of Northen India, poppy of Bihar, sugarcane and vegetables in most parts of India were grown with the aid of irrigation from wells.
Indians mastered well-irrigation so well that Britishers felt their engineering efforts inferior!
After wells, Indians used to create natural rain water reservoirs. Not by obstructing river flows but side lining excess water in naturally viable places. Each of this work, gave life ans wealth to many townships and scores of villages. Such favorable sites, were discovered not singly but in groups at proper suitable geographical formations. Man’s attitude was to establishing synergy with the nature and not to destroy it and consume it!
Dams on rivers were only built in deltaic regions, known as anicut, where water used to divide itself in several thousands streams. Unlike modern mega dams built near the origin of the river.