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Arriving at Principles for Effective Water Management by the Panchayats in India

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Krishnan, Sunderrajan; Indu, Rajnarayan
Conference: Sustaining Commons: Sustaining Our Future, the Thirteenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons
Location: Hyderabad, India
Conf. Date: January 10-14
Date: 2011
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/7348
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): water management
Abstract: "The Panchayats of India are institutions that are constitutionally mandated to perform various functions that facilitate local self-governance. Divided into three tiers, they have been empowered by the 72nd /73rd amendment to the Indian constitution and by various state-level Panchayat acts towards performing these functions. However, in order to bring about these to practice, the state governments further need to take the issue of devolution in all its dimensions seriously and take legal and administrative steps to ensure that the Panchayats can partake these functions. For natural resource management and water in particular, various sub-sectoral power centres already exist. Entangling these power centres and tying them up with the Panchayats is a process that is surely happening today, but very slowly and quite variably across the states. Also, water as a whole is further fragmented into sub-sectors depending on source (surface water, groundwater etc.), use (drinking water, irrigation, fisheries etc) and connections (watershed development, agriculture, etc). Consequently, today we have a cross-state heterogenous picture of devolution on water that within a state itself is partly devolved in differing levels across sub-sectors. Furthermore, there exists too another project of the decentralization process in water management (and other sectors too) that lays emphasis on apolitical local people’s institutions, invariably bypassing the Panchayats in this process. As with the process of Panchayat empowerment, this too varies across states and within sub-sectors. Notwithstanding all these developments at the state level, there has been a parallel movement at the centre towards central acts and schemes which necessitate more responsibility to the Panchayats in terms of planning, implementation and monitoring of these schemes. These and other external pressures such as those from multi-lateral donor and policy institutions have been instrumental in influencing this process of Panchayat empowerment in water management. The example of Pani Samitis in Gujarat as sub-committees of the Panchayat responsible for drinking water supply and sanitation illustrates all these above concepts lucidly (central government Swajaldhara programme, state government’s history of Panchayat empowerment, multi-lateral funder Netherland government requiring Panchayat involvement in its funded schemes, similar devolution absent in other sectors, therefore hampering complete devolution of water management). The process of forming user associations for irrigation water management and registered societies for watershed development are examples of parallel institutions to the Panchayats at the local level. The ability of the Panchayats, then, to actualize effective collective action by the community for decision making on water management, gets hampered due to this current atmosphere of partial and incomplete devolution. Moreover, getting into play local factors within communities of variegated political affiliations, allegiance to caste/community agglomerations and existing power inequities, further handicaps the functioning of the Panchayats. How then, still, do we find that lustrous Panchayat which has been able to overcome all the inertia of the country and managed to find its own way of making use of whatever fund, power and legal strength it can hold on to and create path-defining local examples of self-governance in water management. These examples show us the way ahead and serve as models for others to follow."

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