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Water: Perspectives of Governance

Water: Perspectives of Governance and institutional reforms, including participatory irrigation management (PIM) and the establishment of tradable water Priya Sangameswaran rights, are presented uncritically (for in Governance of Water: Institutional Alternatives and Political Economy brings together a number of different perspectives on some of the major issues being debated in water today such as cost recovery, institutions for local collective action, groundwater management, and multistakeholder participation. Bringing together papers that were first presented at a workshop at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) in 2004, the book raises pertinent, and at times provocative, questions and is therefore worth a read, even though the quality of the individual essays is uneven, and the rapid changes in the water sector have meant that some of the issues discussed in the book have already taken on their own trajectories.

Economic & Political Weekly EPW january 10, 200937book reviewWater: Perspectives of GovernancePriya SangameswaranGovernance of Water: Institutional Alternatives and Political Economy edited by Vishwa Ballabh (New Delhi: Sage), 2008; pp xiv + 386, Rs 950.Governance of Water: Institutional Alternatives and Political Economy brings together a number of dif-ferent perspectives on some of the major issues being debated in water today such as cost recovery, institutions for local col-lective action, groundwater management, and multi-stakeholder participation. Bring-ing together papers that were first presented at a workshop at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) in 2004, the book raises pertinent, and at times pro-vocative, questions and is therefore worth a read, even though the quality of the individual essays is uneven, and the rapid changes in the water sector have meant that some of the issues discussed in the book have already taken on their own trajectories. The 17 chapters in the book are divided into four sections – an introduction to concepts and issues related to, governance issues in the context of first surface water and then groundwater, and recommenda-tions for future change. The introductory section(particularlyChapters 1 and 2) gives an overview of key issuessuchasthe debate about water as a commodity versus a right or a need, and different reforms that have been put forward. But what is missing here is a discussion of the different theoretical approaches that could beused to analyse these issues, their strengths and weaknesses, and how the subsequent chapters link to these. Althoughthereisa mention of three perspectivesofgovern-ance, namely, “legal, publicadministration and institutional economics, with larger political economy concerns” (p 14), the specific theoretical base of each perspec-tive (which would be implicitly present even in an empirical analysis),theconcep-tualcategoriesitworks with, and the kind of policy prescriptions it would result in, are not obvious. The other two chapters in the first sec-tion each deal with one specific aspect of water governance. Chapter 3 adds to the now-growing literature on the construction of so-called problems (droughts in this case) and its consequences. It highlights some of the prominent aspects of the dis-course of droughts, such as the lack of at-tention to the relative nature of scarcity and surplus, the problems of holding high population growth or poor precipitation as causes of droughts, and so on. It then goes into the nitty-gritty of different inter-ventions undertaken by the state in man-aging droughts and the ironies of govern-ance by default (or local coping strategies). Chapter 4 offers a good summary of the gender perspective in the realm of water. Summarising the different rationales for gender concerns (efficiency, welfare, and equity), the chapter makes a case for emphasising the equity rationale even if it involves confronting trade-offs between goals of water governance and gender equity. In general, the potential of water to challenge power inequalities (for in-stance, by breaking the linkage between land and water rights) is emphasised along with its implications for two of the major reforms being undertaken today, viz, the formation of water users’ associations (WUAs) and cost recovery. Surface WaterThe second section of the book consists of six chapters that deal with different issues pertaining to surface water. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 are complementary. Chapter 5 has a fairly good discussion of basic issues of subsidies in irrigation, but seems to lay a lot of blame for the problems in irrigation (state revenue deficits, poor maintenance of projects, wastage and inefficiencies in water use) at the doors of cost recovery, without adequately taking into account the larger context of agrarian decision-making. The solution put forward – price reforms and institutional reforms, including par-ticipatory irrigation management (PIM) and the establishment of tradable water rights, are presented uncritically (for in-stance, in the treatment of farmers as a monolithic group). These problems are mitigated to some extent in the sub-sequent chapters. Chapter 6 discusses the problem of cost recovery as defects in governance with a focus on lower levels of the irrigation bureaucracy (something that is not done often enough). The case study of the Mahi Right Bank Canal in Gujarat analyses the incentives of various actors involved in the recovery process such astalatis, mamlatdars, engineers of the irrigation department, field level staff, and farmers, thereby bringing out the complexities in-volved in cost recovery. On the basis of this evidence, the authors argue that improv-ing the recovery system is of more imme-diate concern than increasing the water cess. In a similar vein, Chapter 7 makes the question of viability of WUAs more compli-cated by focusing on irrigation water pric-ing. It deals with the experience ofWUAs in Gujarat which, under the new PIM pro-gramme, have been given the responsibility to fix water rates. But determining water rates is not a simple matter because at least in some areas, there is a competing source (tubewell water) which has differ-ent characteristics both in terms of the water source itself and the mode of organi-sation of its supply (questions of timing, reliability) and rules about working (e g, about distribution of surplus income among farmers). In general, then, both Chapters 6 and 7 highlight that changes in water would have to consider the wider social and political networks within which water management is embedded. If cost recovery and pricing represent one dimension of PIM, another important dimension – and one that is often taken for granted – is the formation of institu-tions for collective action. It is this that Chapters 8 and 9 focus on. Chapter 8 is a case study of a tank in north Karnataka and the dynamics of building aWUA. The author argues that the debate on community-based management does not
BOOK REVIEWjanuary 10, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly38pay adequate attention to material condi-tions (ecological, technological, and those related to the production process). This results in a situation where the design of water distribution structures presupposes the existence of farmers’ organisations and where culturally specific forms of resource utilisation and farming practices are ignored. As a result, farmers reject thetechnological design as well as the policy intervention. Moving away from a micro context, Chapter 9 deals with the various lacunae in the policy of participatory irrigation management. It questions whether the establishment ofWUAs is the answer to the ills of the irrigation sector and argues that change is needed on various fronts ranging from the design of canal irriga-tion systems, reorienting the irrigation bureaucracy, reform at the main system level, assessing the relationship between WUAs, panchayati raj institutions (PRIs), other user groups, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and situating PIM in the context of broader agrarian processes. Without this, a move towards wholesale PIM would be foolhardy, although this is what is beginning to happen, usually with-out any clarity on what the formation of WUAs would be able to achieve. Water DisputesChapter 10 is a stand-alone chapter on the governance issues involved in interstate water disputes, and specifically the Ravi-Beas water dispute between the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. It goes beyond a discussion of the deficien-cies of the legal system (which is often the domain that the analyses of interstate dis-putes are confined to) and considers other issues: unresolved tensions between Pun-jab and Haryana that date back to the time of carving out of Haryana from Punjab in 1966, local problems faced by the state (including an agrarian crisis from which attention is sought to be deflected by the mobilisation on river water issues), differ-ing levels of development achieved by the states, and the power equations between the centre and the states. This results in a more nuanced analysis of the water dis-pute. However, the discussion of the role that different actors could play in resolving such disputes is a little ambiguous. There is emphasis, on the one hand, on the role of political leadership of states involved in the disputes (p 189). But on the other hand, there are also discussions of the role of NGOs and various other stakeholders without going into the question of legal authority of these actors, and how they will be brought together. GroundwaterThe third section on groundwater govern-ance consists of three chapters. Chapters 11 and 12 deal with the question of ground-water governance in two very different agro-ecological contexts in India. On the basis of a study of groundwater develop-ment in two villages each of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal, Chapter 11 argues that groundwater development in Uttar Pradesh has taken place on a larger scale and is more in favour of marginalised groups than in the other two states. This is partly because of its strategies for ground-water development such as the Free Boring Scheme and Credit-Subsidy Programme, and partly because of the evolution of cost-effective technology and the role played by dealers of pump sets. The policy
BOOK REVIEWEconomic & Political Weekly EPW january 10, 200939implication that follows from this is that governments in Bihar and West Bengal need to streamline credit and subsidy programmes in order to boost agricultural development, and also that state govern-ments, local institutions and institutional credit have to work in tandem. While there is merit in the argument, the larger context of groundwater development is not adequately considered. For instance, why did the facilitating factors happen in Uttar Pradesh, and not in the other two states? Similarly, the claim that, in gen-eral, groundwater markets have led to a more egalitarian distribution of gains in the eastern states would be more con-vincing if the evidence were better linked to the overall pattern of landholdings and the land reform processes in each of the states.Chapter 12 deals with groundwater management in a context (Gujarat) where development has proceeded at too fast a pace thereby resulting in depleting aqui-fers and increasing threats to the liveli-hood of the poor. The chapter maps out the various factors leading to this: ecological diversity which has resulted in uneven distribution of cultivable land, water, and vegetation across the state; the replace-ment of food crops by other crops in the aftermath of the Green Revolution; and the specific form of the public tube well programme. Out of the various attempts made to deal with the over-exploitation of groundwater, the chapter considers the Sardar Sarovar dam, and points out that it makes little (positive) impact on ground-water ecology. While the issues taken up for discussion in the chapter are important ones, there is an attempt to cover too much ground, resulting in analysis that is rather sketchy at times. Chapter 13 is a review of the experience of groundwater policies and institutions in south Asia, China (particularly north China), and Mexico. This is an insightful chapter, particularly the comparison be-tween south Asia and north China, and the differences in institutional structure between the two. For instance, north China has distinct command areas of tube wells and therefore the kind of competitive deepening seen in the south Asian context is not present there. The role of a strong water bureaucracy in China which has a greater presence at the grassroots level (in contrast to the fragmented top-heavy bureaucracy in south Asia) is well ex-plained;specifically, it has led to good cost recovery but it has not had much effect to date in managing groundwater depletion partly because of the perceived trade-offs between sustainability and livelihoods. There are also many concerns that emerge from the chapter. To point out just one, if, as the chapter suggests, local resource management will not emerge as an effec-tive solution to unsustainable groundwa-ter use in south Asia and strong authority structures are needed at other levels, how would the tensions between decentralisa-tion and centralisation (already present in thecontext of regulatory authorities) be dealt with? Research and Policy ChangeThe last section of the book consists of four chapters that take up three different issues relevant for future research and policy change. Chapters 14 and 15 are dis-cussions of the concept of multi-stakeholder participation (MSP), about whose potential both seem optimistic. The main argument made in Chapter 14 is thatMSP is most likely to resolve conflicts if all stakeholders agree to certain basic principles (a norma-tive framework) at the onset of the review process; this is an important argument and one that could be applied to many processes, not justMSP. The authors then propose a set of such principles which in-clude particular notions of sustainability, equity and participation. Chapter 15 is an interesting example of anMSP process to resolve conflicts resulting from over ex-traction of groundwater and pollution in the Palar river basin of Tamil Nadu, and some of the positive outcomes resulting from theMSP (e g, information-sharing between different stakeholders). However, one concern that comes to mind (although this is not taken up in either chapter) is how desirable the recent emphasis on the concept of MSP is, particularly as it is oftenused as a substitute for the concept of citizenship which may have a better legal basis, be more powerful politically, and have a greater potential to address inequities of various kinds. Chapter 16 makes a case for focusing on informal institutional arrangements in the water sector. Using a new institutional economic framework of transaction costs and pay offs, the author analyses recent institutional interventions in the water sector such as participatory irrigation management, public tube wells and me-tering of farm power supply, and points out the kind of unplanned and unintended consequences that result if attention is not paid to the working of informal arrangements. A number of useful points emerge from the discussion. For instance, if institutional change is to work, it must serve a private purpose important to agents involved as in the case of tube well policy in Gujarat. However, the framework also limits the kind of con-cerns that are addressed. For instance, the recommendation that concentrating incentives in the bearer of transaction costs is needed to ensure the success of institutional reforms (p 332) does not consider the possible equity implications that would result from this. Chapter 17 presents the case for a differ-ent kind of water policy research, namely one which analyses the process of policy-making itself. The author argues that while such knowledge already exists at the level of everyday experiences, syste-matic reflection on this is lacking. Such research would have to engage with the broader debates on political democracy and the state in India, as well as deal with the various regional dimensions of water resources governance (particularly the scales at which decisions about allocation of water are taken). While agreeing to the importance of this research agenda, it is also critical to keep in the mind the practical reasons why such research may not have taken place (e g, difficulties in accessing data on processes internal to bureaucracies) but also more importantly, deal with the question of hegemony between different kinds of knowledge (e g, outcome-based versus process-based approaches). As is evident from the brief discussion of the chapters, the book offers much food for thought. However, its contribution would have been even greater if some aspects taken as given in the book had beenunpacked more (e g, the macro ques-tionofstate finances and its implications for cost recovery), and complementarities/
BOOK REVIEWjanuary 10, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly40conflicts between different objectives of water governance and between rural and urban water issues had been more explicitly and critically analysed. This Books ReceivedAbhyankar, Rajendra M, ed. (2008):West Asia and the Region: Defining India’s Role(New Delhi: Academic Foundation), pp 747, Rs 1,295.Akram, Ejaz (2008):Ideals and Realities of Regional Integration in the Muslim World: The Case of the Economic Cooperation Organisation(Karachi and Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp xix + 266, Rs 495.Archibugi, Daniele (2008): The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy (New Jersey: Princeton University Press), pp xx + 298, £ 17.95.Asian Development Bank (2008): Energy Infrastructure: Priorities, Constraints and Strategies for India (New Delhi: Oxford University press), pp xiii + 286, Rs 695.Banerjee, Mukulika (2008): Muslim Portraits: Everyday Lives in India (New Delhi: Yoda Press), pp xxii + 142, Rs 250.Baru, Rama V, ed. (2008): School Health Services in India: The Social and Economic Contexts(New Delhi: Sage Publications), pp x + 210, Rs 550.Basu, Pranab Kanti (2008): Globalisation: An Anti-Text: A Local View(New Delhi: Aakar Books), pp 231, Rs 450.Chauhan, Raj Paul (2008):Breaking the Chain of Corruption: Reflections by a Chartered Accountant (New Delhi: B R Publishing Corporation), pp x + 245,Rs195.Donner, Henrike (2008):Domestic Goddesses: Maternity, Globalisation and Middle-class Identity in Contem-porary India (Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing), pp xii + 215, £ 55.Farouqui, Ather, ed. (2008): Muslims and Media Images: News versus Views (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), pp xiv + 354, Rs 695.Ganesh, Gopal (2008): Privatisation and Labour Restructuring(New Delhi: Academic Foundation), pp 292, Rs 795. Hardtmann, Eva-Maria (2008):The Dalit Movement in India: Local Practices, Global Connections (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), pp xiv + 263, Rs 675.Jairath, Jasveen and Vishwa Ballabh, ed. (2008): Droughts and Integrated Water Resource Manage-ment in South Asia: Issues, Alternatives and Futures (Vol 2: Water in South Asia) (New Delhi: Sage Publications), pp xx + 356, Rs 695.Kapila, Uma, ed. (2008):India’s Economic Development since 1947 (New Delhi: Academic Foundation), pp 742, Rs 425. – (2008): Indian Economy since Independence (New Delhi: Academic Foundation), pp 854, Rs 445.Kapur, Anu (2008): On Disasters in India(New Delhi: Foundation Books/Cambridge University Press), pp viii + 397, Rs 895.Kundu, Amitabh and Michael vonHauff, ed. (2008): Environmental Accounting: Explorations in Methodology (New Delhi: Manak Publications), pp xvii + 283, Rs 900.Madrick, Jeff (2008):The Case for Big Government (Princeton: Princeton University Press), pp 205, $22.95Mallik, Amitav, Nitant Mate and Devayani Bhave (2008): Renewable Energy Technologies: Special Focus on Distributed Power Generation – Potential for Applications to Rural Sector in India (New Delhi: Academic Foundation), pp 89, Rs 595.Mittal, Surabhi and Arpita Mukherjee (2008): Food for Policy: Reforming Agriculture (New Delhi: Foundation Books/Cambridge University Press), pp x + 263, Rs 795.Muller, Max F, ed. (2006): The Sacred Books of the East: The Questions of King Milinda (Part 1)(New Delhi: Low Price Publications), pp xlix + 320, Rs 140.Nayyar, Deepak (2008): Liberalisation and Develop-ment (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), pp xxvii + 422, Rs 795. – (2008): Trade and Globalisation (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), pp xxxi + 457, Rs 795. Novetzke, Christian Lee (2008): Religion and Public Memory: A Cultural History of Saint Namdev in India(West Sussex: Columbia University Press), pp xxii + 309, price not indicated. Olive, David and Gita Piramal (2008): The Quotable Tycoon: A Treasury of Business Quotations(New Delhi:Portfolio/Penguin Group), pp xx + 219, Rs 499.Oommen, M A, ed. (2008): Fiscal Decentralisation toLocal Governments in India(New Caste, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), pp viii + 220, price not indicated. Pain, Asis Kumar, ed. (2008): Globalisation: Latin American Experience(Hyderabad: ICFAI Univer-sity Press), pp viii + 211, $16.Parnami, K K (2008): Indo-US Nuclear Deal(Jaipur: Rawat Publications), pp viii + 198, Rs 495.Patukale, Kshitij (2008):Insurance for Everyone (New Delhi: Macmillan India), pp xvi + 310, Rs 160.Pinney, Christopher (2008):The Coming of Photography in India(New Delhi: Oxford University Press), pp x + 166, Rs 1,295.Raihan, Selim (2008): Domestic Preparedness for Services Trade Liberalisation: Are South Asian Countries Prepared for Further Liberalisation? (Jaipur: Cuts International), pp xiii + 177, price not indicatedRamagundam, Rahul (2008):Gandhi’s Khadi: A His-tory of Contention and Conciliation(Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan), pp xiii + 298, Rs 395.Rao, Purba Halady (2008):Greening the Supply Chain: A Guide for Asian Managers(New Delhi: Response Books), pp xviii + 250, Rs 325.Rao, Yagati Chinna, ed. (2008): Perspectives on Eco-nomic Development and Social Change(Jaipur: Rawat Publications), pp xiv + 356, Rs 875.Ray, Partha (2008):Commercial Banks and Monetary Policy in India(New Delhi: Academic Founda-tion), pp 279, Rs 795.Ray, Sunil (2008):Management of Natural Resources – Institutions for Sustainable Livelihood: The Case of Rajasthan (New Delhi: Academic Foundation), pp 420, Rs 995.RIS (2008): South Asia Development and Cooperation Report 2008 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press in association with Research and Information System (RIS) for Developing Countries), pp xix + 152, Rs 395.Salim, Ahmad, ed. 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(2008): Anthropologists Inside Organisations: South Asian Case Studies (New Delhi, Los Ange-les: Sage Publications), pp viii + 170, Rs 495. Swaminathan, R, ed. (2008): Gujarat: Perspectives of the Future (New Delhi: Academic Foundation), pp 357, Rs 895.Teltumbde, Anand (2008): Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop(New Delhi: Navayana Publishing), pp 214, Rs 190.Thaha, Abdul S (2008): Forest Policy and Ecological Change: Hyderabad State in Colonial India (New Delhi: Foundation Books/Cambridge University Press), pp vii + 164, Rs 595.Tripathi, Vibha (2008): History of Iron Technology in India, Rupa & Co, New Delhi, pp xxxii + 243, price not indicated.Veluthat, Kesavan (2008): The Early Medieval in South India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), pp xii + 356, Rs 695.shortcoming (along with some of the oth-ers raised earlier) stem broadly from an inadequate attention to questions of politi-cal economy in many of the chapters, a fact that is more glaring given that the term is part of the sub-title of the book. Email:

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