Rule(s) over regulation: the making of water reforms and regulatory cultures in Maharashtra, India
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This research focuses on how water sector reforms are unfolding in the state of Maharashtra, India. In 2005, Maharashtra launched an ambitious reform programme with support from the World Bank to establish an independent water regulator and make water user associations mandatory for water delivery in the state. The establishment of the regulator, the first of its kind in the Indian water sector, invited much attention from policy makers and civil society organisations after which several Indian states followed Maharashtra’s footsteps. Celebrated for its ‘independent’ and ‘apolitical’ virtues, this model of regulation was designed to provide answers to inefficiency and political opportunism in the water sector. What gained immense traction in the regulatory discourse was the concept of entitlements and the possibility of introducing water markets for ‘efficient’ pricing and distribution of water. To date, however, this reform project has faced reversals, limitations and subversions which have been described as ‘evolution’ by pro-reformers and ‘failures’ by the resisting groups. This thesis shows how a seemingly ‘apolitical' initiative aimed to dilute the authority of the State in the water sector is subverted to shape and reinforce its control. Though the idea of independent water regulator is increasingly getting mainstreamed into water policy discourses in India, divergent framings and rationales have made regulation a deeply contested political process. In Maharashtra, the turf war between politicians, the water resources department and the water regulator coupled with cases of corporate water grab lie at the heart of rule-making for regulation. This has made the authority of the water regulator and the meaning of regulation ambiguous and blurred. This ambiguity in turn shapes the distribution of water entitlements. In the sugarcane belt of Western Maharashtra where farmers access water from different sources, entitlements are shaped by persistent inequities in water distribution. They take on different meanings as they are subsumed into struggles over water control between the irrigation officials and the farmers on one hand, and amongst different groups of the farmers on the other. This struggle over meanings and practices across the reform process constitutes what I call “regulatory cultures” in this thesis. Using anthropological methods to study policy processes, this work shows how water regulation is discursively shaped and becomes a deeply political practice embedded in networks of power. These networks are formed at the intersection of donors, different layers of irrigation bureaucracy, water user associations and prosperous sugarcane farmers. I argue that the architecture of the Indian State, embedded in these very networks, is central to understanding the politics and practice of water regulation in Maharashtra.
CitationSrivastava, Shilpi (2015) Rule(s) over regulation: the making of water reforms and regulatory cultures in Maharashtra, India. Doctoral thesis, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.
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