As further background for our work and trip in India, I attempted to understand the basics of how water was regulated in Rajasthan, both on the community and legal level.
The World Bank has divvied India’s history of water management into three eras. First, there is the Pre- 1850 era marked by small scale citizen water management, rain fed agriculture, and only minimal state involvement in water projects. Second, came the era between 1850 and 1970 marked by heavy state involvement in water development and large declines in local water management and citizen involvement. Lastly, the World Bank described the era between 1970 and 2005 as the era of declining state involvement in water projects (due to decline in public funding of water management), and considerable citizen investments in tubewells (World Bank 2005). When the state entered the groundwater sphere in 1850, central organization replaced small scale and local water management practices. When the state then ceased to play a large role in water development, a void was created where neither local nor central water management schemes existed. Since the time of State control over groundwater, the population (and thus the demand on water) has increased significantly and the responsibility of making decisions about water resources has shifted from the shoulders of the central government to a diverse multitude of individuals making decisions entirely independently of one another.
For all practical purposes, there is no formal groundwater regulation in Rajasthan or the rest of India. As the New York Times wrote in a 2006 story on water scarcity in
While the central Indian government does not have the authority to regulate water, they have begun to pass “model bills” on groundwater for the states to emulate. For example, in 2002 they passed the Model National Water Policy and in 2005 they passed the Model Bill to Regulate and Control the Development and Management of Groundwater (Birkenholtz 2005). Multi-lateral Institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have taken notice of the situation and offered funding attached to requirements for changes to water management (Birkenholtz 2006). For example, the World Bank in 2005 announced they would up their funding of water projects in India from $200 million annually to $900 million annually to incentivize change in India’s water management, specifically incentivizing that adoption of transferable water rights and the establishment of a regulating body for groundwater (World Bank 2005).
In response to mounting pressure and the World Bank’s incentives, Rajasthan’s legislative body passed the 2006 Groundwater Rational Use and Management Act (Central Ground Water Board). However, this act has been under review by the Special Committee since that time, and has yet to be brought into force and is still considered to be in “Draft Form” (Central Groundwater Board) (Bhawan 2009). While the bill has not been enacted to date, the fact that it passed the legislative body of Rajasthan is a huge step towards groundwater management in the region. Furthermore, while the act itself may not yet bear the weight of authority, it still has laid the framework for progress in groundwater management in the region.
The World Bank has pointed to the lack of clear water rights as one of the biggest obstacles preventing strong water regulation in India (World Bank 2005). The lack of clear rights has fuelled water grabs between and within states in India. These “water grabs” have led to over extraction of the precious resource, in many cases beyond what is actually needed. Furthermore, this jockeying for control over water has developed into bloody conflict in many cases (World Bank 2005). The Water Ministry of India described the situation of water disputes in India as proliferation of small “civil wars” across the country between individuals and communities (Parsai 2005). While establishing water rights where none have historically existed is a daunting and politically and socially messy task, the World Bank has argued that it would not only facilitate groundwater regulation, but would likely lead to conservation of the resource and a reduction in violence spurred by water disputes.
Bhawan, S., Marg, J.L.N. (2009). “Environmental Management Guidelines of Action Plan of SWRPD for Water Sector in Rajasthan.” The Government of Rajasthan: State Water Resources Planning Department.
Birkenholtz, Trevor (2006). “The Politics of Groundwater Scarcity: Technology, Institutions, and Governance in Rajasthani Irrigation.” Ohio State University Dissertation.
Central Groundwater Board. (2010). "State Profile Rajasthan." http://cgwb.gov.in/gw_profiles/st_Rajasthan.htm. Accessed April 2, 2011
Central Ground Water Board. http://www.cgwb.gov.in/mandate.htm. Accessed April 4, 2011.
Parsai, Gargi (2005). “Water Ministry seeks World Bank funding for reforms.” The Hindu, January 14, 2005. http://www.hindu.com/2005/01/14/stories/2005011403871200.htm.
Rathore, M.S. (2005). “Groundwater Exploration and Augmentation efforts in Rajasthan.” Institute of Development Studies.
Sengupta, Somini (2006)). India Digs Deeper, but Wells are Drying Up. New York Times, September 30, 2006. http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/series/thirstygiant/index.html