Water Management in the Semi-Arid Margins of Gujarat: NGOs, User Groups and Water Rights

In India , NG0's influence on natural resources management significantly increased during the 90's. In the water sector, they took an important part in reviving participatory approaches through programmes based on local water user groups. The paper is based on the results of a collaborative research project between an Indian NGO1and a Swiss research programme2 . The project aimed at analyzing the efficiency of water use in a water development programme conducted by the partner NGO in the semi-arid margins of Gujarat . The analysis raises the question of the legal framework in which NGOs operate. The legal vacuum regarding the management of surface water favours the concentration of water resources in the hands of a limited number of farmers and induces low water use efficiency.

The Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), the official decentralized bodies, is considered as the legal natural resources manager at the village level. However, lack of competence and limited financial means limit the ability of PRIs to play this role efficiently. Within the current legal framework, NGOs can supervise the construction of dams but have no rights with regard to the distribution and regulation of the access to water.

Furthermore, the water user groups on which many NGOs base their action don't have a legal status in Gujarat . Even, on the ground, user groups remain the effective managers of water resources mobilized after NGO's intervention.

As a result, the roles and responsibilities regarding water resources management at the village level are unclear. This is often a source of conflicts and leaves the place to local arrangements and political influences.

Following a severe drought in 1999-2000, Gujarat State became aware of the urgent need to reorganize its water policy. NGOs called to play an important part in supporting this policy but paradoxically, legal aspects seem to stay out of this opening reflection. At a federal scale, the 10 th Indian Development Plan strengthens PRIs, and restrains NGOs as Project Implementation Agencies (PIAs). Many NGOs consider these orientations as a clear regress for participatory approaches and water management efficiency. They militate for a legal recognition of user groups to clarify their rights but also their duties. It could be a first step to improve NGO, PRI and user groups articulation which is a precondition to improving the efficiency of water use in the study area.


1 Aga Khan Rural Support Programme ( India ) (AKRSP(I))

2“ Negotiating Conflicts of Interest Related to Water Management”, founded by the Geneva International Academic Network, (GIAN), and associating the Graduate Institute of Development Studies (IUED) and the Swiss Institute of Technology of Lausanne (EPFL)