Discourses In Water And Water Reform In Western India

A number of different strands have emerged in recent times in the international discourse on water – the Dublin-Rio principles, the advocacy of water markets and privatization of water services by institutions such as the World Bank, the approach of Integrated Water Resources Management, and the rights discourse (in particular, the idea of Right to Water). Each of these has varying implications for different aspects of water such as ownership, delivery and pricing; further, they have also had different degrees of influence on the water (and water-related) policies and legislation of nation-states. This paper seeks to (i) bring out the relation between these different discourses at the international level, as well as the extent to which they engage with each other and (ii) study the resulting contradictions in the manner in which ‘reform' in the water sector has been undertaken in the specific context of Maharashtra in western India. The focus in both cases will be on one particular aspect of water viz. delivery of water services.

The domain of delivery of water services has seen the confluence of three different trends – decentralization (as evident in the emphasis on Participatory Irrigation Management), centralization (as evident in some aspects of Integrated Water Resources Management), as well as privatization. For instance, recent legislative changes in Maharashtra include an act that provides a statutory basis for the management of irrigation systems by farmers, the institutionalization of a state-level Maharashtra Water Resources Resulting Regulatory Authority with far-reaching powers, the setting up irrigation development corporations, and the introduction of the concept of ‘entitlements' to water. The co-existence of different trends, as well as the resulting contradictions and limitations in the water sector (not just in Maharashtra, but also more generally), can be traced at least in part to the inter-play of water discourses at the international level, as well as the hegemonic influence that some discourses (such as dictates on privatization) have over others (such as the concept of right to water). Hence any attempt to influence policy (e.g., by civil society agents) would need engagement with these discourses.