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Water, Law and the Commons

The International Environmental Law Research Centre (IELRC) organised a workshop on Water, Law and the Commons in Delhi from 8 to 10 December 2006.

You will find on this website the full text of the papers submitted for the workshop, a full list of participants and their bibliographies, the full programme of the workshop and powerpoint presentations where available.

You may also download the workshop report here as well as the full workshop proceedings here.

Concept note

Water security, increasingly, is a concern the world over. Many factors contribute to this growing concern. Firstly, the growing scarcity - both as a result of rapid urbanization and intensified agriculture- has multiplied the demand for the resource. Secondly, the increased demand has resulted in greater commercialization compelling certain policy redefinitions of the resource from a ‘public good' to an ‘economic good'. Thirdly, demands for improved water governance has prompted a reworking of the legal, regulatory, technical and institutional frameworks, in many parts of the world. An integrated approach can contribute to better management of the water resources, address access and equity issues and ensure sustainable water usage.

In India, the water sector restructuring has so far led to a number of changes, including reforms of the legal and regulatory framework, institutional changes, increased farmers' participation in irrigation management, increased water rates, privatization of urban water supply, regulation of ground water and a policy shift to accommodate private interests. India has been building experience with water restructuring projects over the past decade and is currently in the midst of implementing several World Bank led water restructuring projects which will have significant impacts on the realization of the rights to water and all other aspects of water regulation for decades to come. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are some of the states in which a number of projects are currently ongoing. It is therefore of utmost importance to examine in more detail the interactions of the international and national dimensions of water reforms and to compare existing and proposed legal frameworks in different developing countries. Further, it is critical to study water regulatory frameworks in a comparative perspective given the increasingly important role played by international institutions in setting up water-related regulatory frameworks. as well as multinational companies in the provision of water services.

It is in this context that the workshop seeks to focus on the legal reforms in the water sector, with a tangential foray into the realm of water and the commons. In most countries, water is viewed as a common heritage or a common pool resource. This traditional model is increasingly being challenged in policy and the law, concerning water as well as all natural resources. It is this changing nature of the commons that the initial part of the workshop seeks to dwell on, in a bid to underline the need to revert the legal reforms debate from the sphere of ‘private' and ‘markets' to that of ‘commons' and ‘collectives'. More specifically, the workshop attempts to:

  • Evaluate the trends in water sector legal and institutional restructuring frameworks.
  • Analyse through case studies the impact of water restructuring in India .
  • Examine the role of the financial institutions in water sector restructuring.
  • Study the legal issues arising under national and international law, impacting the jurisprudence of environmental law, administrative law, trade law and human rights provisions.
  • Explore practical and innovative suggestions to problems identified with existing water restructuring project, with a specific focus on equity, justice and democracy issues.
  • Reflect on newer understanding of traditional and more current issues in water management, through an inter-disciplinary approach.

The objectives of the workshop are to provide a platform for discussions concerning some of the most important legal and policy issues arising in the context of ongoing water sector reforms. This workshop is specifically seeking to ensure a broader understanding of the conceptual framework informing existing water law and ongoing law reforms.








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