Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate
Chapter 28: Irrigation in India: equity and sustainability
Satyajit Singh INTRODUCTION Water is a crucial resource for agricultural production. It will be demonstrated in this chapter that an understanding of the politics of water use and its distribution is thus crucial to any understanding of state and society based on agricultural production. Though water is a common property resource, rights over the use of water are related to the changes in, and control over, agricultural production. People’s relationship to water is a dynamic one. Various social groups constantly manipulate the use of this resource in their own interest. Irrigation therefore has to be understood in relation to the wider changes in agricultural production and to social change. This study of the role of the state in colonial and independent India, and the nature of its mediation between the different classes in relation to water, will help us understand the rights over water, its use and ecological change. It will also help us understand the politics of irrigation development on which, since independence, nearly 10 per cent of the total planned expenditure of the state has been spent. The approach adopted here is not just a method of analysing the social context of irrigation but, by emphasizing the need to view water as a common property resource, it also has a policy implication for equitable and sustainable use of water. In India, today, property rights in water are linked to ownership of land. The skewed distribution of land necessarily debars the majority from having a use of the ‘common’...
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