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Hydrogeology Journal

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 392–406 | Cite as

Political ecology of groundwater: the contrasting case of water-abundant West Bengal and water-scarce Gujarat, India

  • Aditi MukherjiEmail author
Article

Abstract

Three apparently disparate themes (groundwater, farmers and politics) interweave in this account of how groundwater-related policies in India have very little to do with the scarcity, depletion or quality of groundwater, and more to do with rural politics manifested, among other things, in terms of the presence or absence of farmer lobbies. Examples from two states of India, the water-abundant state of West Bengal and water-scarce state of Gujarat, were investigated using readily available data, analysis of the literature, interviews and fieldwork. In the case of West Bengal, although there is no pressing groundwater crisis, the government of West Bengal (GOWB) was able to successfully implement strict groundwater regulations along with a drastic increase in electricity tariff. More importantly, GOWB was able to implement these without any form of visible farmer protest, though these measures negatively affected farmer incomes. On the other hand, in Gujarat, where there is a real and grave groundwater crisis, the government of Gujarat has neither been able to implement strict groundwater regulations, nor has it been able to increase electricity tariff substantially. Thus, through the lens of ‘political ecology’ the contrasting case of these two Indian states is explained.

Keywords

Groundwater resources Politics Farmer lobby Gujarat West Bengal 

Résumé

Trois thèmes apparemment disparates (l'eau souterraine, les fermiers et la politique) se rejoignent pour mieux comprendre á quel point les politiques indiennes sont peu concernées par la pénurie, l'exploitation et la qualité des eaux souterraines; et le sont plus par la politique de développement rural manifestée entre autres choses, par la présence ou l'absence de lobbys fermiers. Des exemples de deux états indiens, l'état de Bengal Ouest, bien alimenté en eau, et l'état du Gujarat, ont été étudiés en utilisant des données disponibles, des études précédentes, des interviews et des enquêtes de terrain. Dans le cas du Bengal Ouest, bien qu'il n'y est pas de crises liées á la pression sur les eaux souterraines, le gouvernement (GoWB) a été capable d'instaurer une politique stricte en matière de régulation des eaux souterraines, en même temps qu'une augmentation importante des tarifs de l'électricité. Plus important, le GoWB a été capable d'instaurer ces changements sans aucune protestation visible des fermiers, bien que ces mesures affectent sérieusement leurs revenus. D'un autre côté, en Gujarat oùil y a un réel besoin et une grave crise relative á l'eau souterraine, le gouvernement n'a pas été capable d'instaurer une régulation stricte sur les eaux souterraines, tandis qu'il a augmenté sensiblement les tarifs de l'électricité. Dés lors, á la lumière d'une «politique écologique », les deux cas contrastant de ces états indiens, a été expliqué.

Resumen

Tres temas aparentemente dispares (agua subterránea, agricultores, y política) se entremezclan en esta situación de cómo las políticas relacionadas con el agua subterránea en India tienen muy poco que ver con la escasez, agotamiento o calidad de agua subterránea, y más que ver con política rural la cual se manifiesta, entre otras cosas, en términos de la presencia o ausencia de grupos a favor de la agricultura. Se investigaron ejemplos de dos estados de India, el estado abundante en agua de Bengala Occidental y el estado con escasez de agua de Gujarat utilizando datos de fácil disponibilidad, análisis de la literatura, entrevistas, y trabajo de campo. En el caso de Bengala Occidental, aunque no existe una crisis de presión sobre el agua subterránea, el gobierno de Bengala Occidental (GOWB) pudo implementar exitosamente regulaciones estrictas de agua subterránea junto con un incremento drástico en la tarifa de electricidad. Más importante aún, GOWB pudo implementar esta medidas sin que se registrara una forma visible de protesta de agricultores aunque estas medidas afectan negativamente los ingresos de los agricultores. Por otro lado, en Gujarat, donde existe una crisis grave y real de agua subterránea, el gobierno de Gujarat no ha estado dispuesto a implementar regulaciones estrictas de agua subterránea ni ha incrementado substancialmente la tarifa de electricidad. De esta manera se ha explicado el caso contrastante de estos dos estados de India a través de la lupa de la ‘ecología política’.

Notes

Acknowledgements

This work was carried out as a part of the authors’ Ph.D. thesis titled ‘Groundwater market and agrarian change in West Bengal’ at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK. The author's study at Cambridge is supported by the Gates Cambridge Trust and the additional financial support for carrying out fieldwork in India was provided by the Smuts Memorial Fund, Department of Geography, Suzy Paine Trust and Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University. The author would like to thank Dr. Tushaar Shah of IWMI, India and Dr. Ramon Llamas of Complutense University, Madrid for their review comments. Dr. Bhaswar Moitra and Dr. Dwaipayan Bhattacharya of Jadavpur University and the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, respectively, Kolkata, India gave their critical comments which helped in improving the paper. Time and effort invested by few peasant leaders in West Bengal and electricity department officials in West Bengal and Gujarat are gratefully acknowledged. Finally, the author would like to thank her supervisor at Cambridge, Dr. Bhaskar Vira for allowing her to pursue her ideas unimpeded.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUnited Kingdom

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