Volume 34, Issue 1

January 2018
Special Issue on Politics and Policies for Water Resources Management in India

Research Article

Water management in India: the multiplicity of views and solutions

M. Dinesh Kumar
Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy, Hyderabad, India

Contact: M. Dinesh Kumar | Email: dinesh@irapindia.org


There is very limited scientific evidence to support some of the ideas in the water sector that guide India’s government policies in these sectors. Further, the interdisciplinary perspective required for the design of economic instruments, institutions, and laws and regulations to implement existing policies is lacking in social scientists. This article discusses the growing debate on water management options for India, the tone and tenor of policy debate and the inconsistency. It summarizes 10 scholarly articles from various authors which reflect the multiplicity of views on water issues and solutions for water management in the country.

Pages: 1-15


Research Article

Water resources development in India

Chandrakant D. Thatte
Water Resources, Government of India, Pune, India

Contact: Chandrakant D. Thatte | Email: cdthatte@hotmail.com


India, an ancient rural and agricultural society that is rapidly modernizing, receives a fair share of its yearly precipitation in only a few days of the monsoon, with high inter-annual variability. In most of its regions, therefore, India needs to store a large proportion of its annual runoff in reservoirs for use in non-monsoon months. In spite of this strategy being in operation for the last 60 years, India’s per capita reservoir storage is relatively small, and water-use efficiency also remains low. Though the overall performance of the water sector in terms of matching of supply and demand has improved, the country remains challenged by deficiencies in laws, regulation policies and institutions, and weakened by a suboptimal work culture in politics, legislature, technocracy and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Pages: 16-27



India’s water management debate: is the ‘civil society’ making it everlasting?

M. Dinesh Kumara and Chetan M. Panditb
aInstitute for Resource Analysis and Policy, Hyderabad, India; bCentral Water Commission, Pune, India

Contact: M. Dinesh Kumar |  Email: dinesh@irapindia.org


This article discusses the bias of the growing constituency of civil society activists in India against conventional water management solutions implemented by the government, and the ‘alternatives’ they champion, which force the government to enter into an endless debate with these groups. The article goes into the fundamental reasons for this bias, and identifies four types of civil society activist: ‘professional’, ‘ideologue’, ‘romantic’ and ‘doomsday prophet’. The article also argues that water bureaucracies in India should adopt evidence-based policy making, subjecting the ‘alternatives’ to the same degree of scrutiny as the conventional ones, to end the policy dilemma, while enhancing the overall quality of design, execution and management of projects for better outcomes.

Pages: 28-41



Proposing a solution to India’s water crisis: ‘paradigm shift’ or pushing outdated concepts?

M. Dinesh Kumar
Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy, Hyderabad, India

Contact: M. Dinesh Kumar | Email: dinesh@irapindia.org


This article is a critique of the report of the committee chaired by Dr Mihir Shah on restructuring the Central Water Commission and Central Ground Water Board of India. It shows that the recommendations of the committee are not based on any sound understanding of the federal nature of water administration in India, water-sector performance or the problems confronting it. The ‘paradigm shift’ in the suggested approach to water management is based on flawed analysis of the performance of surface irrigation systems and outdated concepts of irrigation efficiency, and reflects the professional bias of its members against large water infrastructure and wishful thinking about what schemes like aquifer mapping can achieve.

Pages: 42-50


Research Article

Water transfer from irrigation tanks for urban use: can payment for ecosystem services produce efficient outcomes?

L. Venkatachalama and Kulbhushan Baloonib
aMadras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India; bIndian Institute of Management Kozhikode, Kozhikode, India

Contact: L. Venkatachalam | Email: venkat@mids.ac.in


Many Indian states have begun to transfer water meant for irrigation to non-agricultural purposes, but the economic and environmental consequences are not adequately understood. Transfer of water out of water bodies from rural areas not only reduces the economic welfare of the traditional water users but also reduces their incentives to manage these water bodies on a sustainable basis. The study explores the possibility of introducing the mechanism of ‘payment for ecosystem services’ at the grass-roots level in the Indian context as a return for reallocation of water from irrigation to urban uses so that it can produce a non-zero-sum outcome for villagers, farmers, urban consumers and governments.

Pages: 51-65


Research Article

The negative impact of subsidies on the adoption of drip irrigation in India: evidence from Madhya Pradesh

R.P.S. Malika, Mark Giordanob and M.S. Rathorec
aInternational Water Management Institute, New Delhi, India; bGeorgetown University, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Washington, DC, USA; cCentre for Economic and Development Studies, Jaipur, India

Contact: R.P.S. Malik | Email: r.malik@cgiar.org


Drip irrigation in India has expanded slowly. One reason cited is the high capital costs facing the smallholder-dominated agricultural sector. Governments have provided capital subsidies in response. This study finds that, rather than improving access to drip, the subsidy system holds the technology back, because its technical requirements, highly bureaucratic processes and pricing incentives turn many drip providers into rent-seeking agents rather than service providers to farmers, leading to price increases of 40% or more. If capital costs are truly the constraint on drip expansion in India, alternative models to address them are available.

Pages: 66-77


Research Article

Managing water-related risks in the West Bengal Sundarbans: policy alternatives and institutions

Ernesto Sánchez-Trianaa, Leonard Ortolanob and Tapas Paulc
aEnvironment and Natural Resources Department – Global Practice, World Bank, Washington, DC, USA; bDepartment of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA; cEnvironment and Natural Resources Department – Global Practice, World Bank, New Delhi, India

Contact: Ernesto Sánchez-Triana | Email: esancheztriana@worldbank.org


Persistent pressures from water-related threats – sea-level rise, soil and water salinization, and flooding due to embankment overtopping and failure – have made the West Bengal Sundarbans a challenging place to live, and effects of global climate change will only worsen conditions. Four alternative policy directions are examined: business as usual; intensive rural development; short-term out-migration of residents; and embankment realignment and facilitation of voluntary, permanent out-migration. The last of these is the recommended approach. Study findings have informed ongoing deliberations to build consensus on future policy directions for reducing the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters.

Pages: 78-96

https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2016.1202099 (Free Access)

Research Article

Techno-institutional models for managing water quality in rural areas: case studies from Andhra Pradesh, India

V. Ratna Reddy
Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management Institute, Hyderabad, India

Contact: V. Ratna Reddy | Email: vratnareddy@lnrmi.ac.in


This article examines the rationale, technologies, economics and institutional modalities in water quality management operations to draw lessons for designing policies for sustainable service delivery at scale. While the rationale for providing potable drinking water at affordable prices is clear, their economic viability is weak given their present scale of operations. There is a need for institutional safeguards for selection of deserving villages and water quality monitoring. It is argued that public–private–community partnerships are economically viable and sustainable. Adopting appropriate technologies could help with addressing the water quality issues in a more comprehensive manner.

Pages: 97-115


Research Article

Financial performance of India’s irrigation sector: a historical analysis

A. Narayanamoorthy
Department of Economics and Rural Development, Alagappa University, Karaikudi, India

Contact: A. Narayanamoorthy | Emails: narayana64@gmail.com, na_narayana@hotmail.com


India’s public irrigation sector is one of the largest in the world in terms of number of large reservoirs, total storage capacity and irrigated area. But poor financial performance has been threatening its sustainability. Hence, many changes have been introduced in the area of water pricing over the years. But studies that focus on the issue of financial recovery are scanty. Analysis presented in the article shows that despite a substantial increase in area under irrigation, there has been a consistent decline in revenue generated from irrigation fee collection across states. The recovery rate of irrigation fees has been better in less developed states than in more developed states.

Pages: 116-131


Research Article

Solarizing groundwater irrigation in India: a growing debate

Nitin Bassi
Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy, New Delhi, India

Contact: Nitin Bassi | Email: nitinbassi@irapindia.org


India is on a path to reduce its carbon emission intensity with a major thrust on increasing the grid-connected solar photovoltaic capacity. However, the carbon footprint in agriculture is on the rise. Heavy subsidies for electricity and diesel to pump groundwater for irrigated agriculture, combined with lack of regulations on water withdrawal, are resulting in both groundwater over-exploitation and increased carbon emissions. Some researchers and practitioners have suggested large-scale promotion of solar pumps for well irrigation as a way to make agricultural growth carbon-neutral and groundwater use in farming sustainable. This article examines whether solar pumps for groundwater irrigation are technically feasible and economically
viable in India.

Pages: 132-145