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Water and Livelihoods: Role of Collective Action and Property Rights (A Case of Surface and Groundwater Management in India)

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Reddy, V. Ratna; Shiferaw, Bekele
Conference: Governing Shared Resources: Connecting Local Experience to Global Challenges, the Twelfth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Commons
Location: Cheltenham, England
Conf. Date: July 14-18, 2008
Date: 2008
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1111
Sector: Social Organization
Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): property rights
collective action
water management
Abstract: "Property rights over natural resources are fundamental in shaping the livelihoods of rural poor. Rural poor are often found to possess the weakest property rights over resources, such as land, water, forests, etc. By re-contracting rights in different ways, disadvantaged actors may create opportunities to amend their initial disadvantages into a more beneficial arrangement for them. Most of the poor find themselves in poverty not due to the absence of property rights, but due to their inability to assert or change them through collective action. In most of the cases the existing property rights that are embedded in political-economy systems are biased against poor. Hence, collective action or social mobilisation is an important channel for asserting the rights of the poor. "The effectiveness of collective action in overcoming the socio-economic and political dynamics depends on the relative strength of the collective group in changing the political fortunes. In the absence of such strengths collective action may not necessarily guarantee success with respect to poverty alleviation. As long as socioeconomic inequities and 'elite capture' are dominant phenomena in the system, institutional changes (including property rights) may not result in poverty alleviation. Though, water and livelihoods are closely associated the linkages weaken in the absence property rights. Collective action could help reworking the rights but their linkages under divergent conditions are less understood. This paper is an attempt to understand the intricacies in the relations between property rights, collective action and livelihoods. Water management, surface as well as ground water, in Andhra Pradesh, India forms the backdrop for understanding the complexities. "This paper argues that the importance and strengths of property rights and collective action depends on the nature and type of property rights regime the resource is operating under. Existing property rights are often found to be biased against the poor. This is mainly due to the absence of equity concerns in the existing property rights. As a result these property rights are not effective in addressing the issues of poverty. While collective action could initiate changes in property rights regimes, incorporating the equity issues in to property rights involves transaction costs. On the other hand, equity based property rights facilitate collective action strategies. Equity appears to be the critical factor in determining the effectiveness of collective action and property rights in addressing poverty."

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