Highlights • Purulia is a drought-prone underdeveloped district of India. • Aquaculture is a viable option to support the economy of the district. • Multiple criteria affect the success of aquaculture. • Clustering and decision tree analysis is used to identify critical factors. • The development of an institutional framework to coordinate farmers is vital. Abstract The development of composite culture of carps in Purulia, an economically underdeveloped district of India, is confronted with several socio-economic, topographic, and climatic challenges. West Bengal Accelerated Development of Minor Irrigation Project (WBADMIP), an innovative integrated program of irrigation, agriculture, horticulture, and fisheries interventions through community institutions, was implemented in Purulia by the Government of West Bengal and was supported by the World Bank. Performances of the composite culture of carps in 172 water bodies by fisheries interest groups under the initiatives of WBADMIP were evaluated based on 18 different parameters using the k-mean algorithm. The results indicated that the water bodies could be categorized into three Clusters, based on inputs, expenditure, production, and income. Cluster 1, consisting of 85 water bodies, exhibited moderate performance with an average production of 2351 kg/ha, followed by Cluster 2 of 49 water bodies exhibiting poor performance with an average production of 1463 kg/ha, and Cluster 3 of 38 water bodies exhibiting best performance with an average production of 2488 kg/ha. Euclidean distance between Cluster centers 1 and 2 was 4.511 as compared to 3.737 and 5.102 between the Cluster centers 1 and 3 and 2 and 3, respectively. The water bodies with higher productivity were primarily associated with the WBADMIP policy that mobilized trained farmers who could adequately manage the application of feed, lime, inorganic fertilizers, and organic fertilizers. Using decision tree analysis, we predicted that the maintenance of water pH above 6.9 is crucial in obtaining optimum carps production from these water bodies. In contrast, the use of lime, inorganic fertilizers, organic fertilizers, and an adequate amount of feed need to be adjusted to maintain an economically viable production system. It is concluded that the farmers’ motivation and professional training along with project support can substantially improve the productivity of the water bodies, support the nutrition of the farmers’ community, and boost the local economy.