ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Water and Agricultural Transformation in India

A Symbiotic Relationship—II

An argument for twin propositions is presented in this two-part paper: (i) that solving India’s water problem requires a paradigm shift in agriculture (Part I), and (ii) that the crisis in Indian agriculture cannot be resolved without a paradigm shift in water management and governance (Part II). The second part describes the paradigm shift needed in water, which includes rejuvenation of catchment areas of rivers, a shift towards participatory approaches to water management, focus on green water and protective irrigation, and widespread adoption of water-saving seeds and technologies, while building transdisciplinarity and overcoming hydro-schizophrenia in water governance.


This is an edited version of a paper originally commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization. An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the National Dialogue on Indian Agriculture towards 2030 in January 2021. The authors are extremely thankful to Jean Drèze for his detailed comments on the paper.

Just as the green revolution paradigm fundamentally misrecognises the essential nature of soils as living ecosystems, the dominant policy discourse on water fails to acknowledge the principal characteristics of water as an intricately interconnected, common pool resource. The multiple crises of water in India today could be said to stem from this essential misapprehension. Atomistic and competitive over-exploitation of aquifers and the inability to manage catchment and command areas of large dams are the biggest examples of how the water crisis has aggravated.

What makes things worse—but also creates an opening for a new beginning—is the fact that definite limits are being reached for any further construction of large dams or groundwater extraction. Thus, the strategy of constructing large dams across rivers is increasingly up against growing basin closures. In addition, the possibilities of further extraction of groundwater are reducing, especially in the hard rock regions, which comprise around two-thirds of India’s land mass.

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Updated On : 25th Jul, 2021
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