ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Water System Management

water System Management Jayanta Bandyopadhyay for narrowing the focus of watershed development. The third, and the last section, is on interpreting community roles and initiatives. The frst two chapters deal with two For some parts of south Asia, water has remained as a major obstacle to human advancement since long. In the eastern parts, as in Bangladesh and eastern India, annual monsoonal inundations have been seen as flood


Water System Management

Jayanta Bandyopadhyay

for narrowing the focus of watershed d evelopment.

The third, and the last section, is on i nterpreting community roles and initiatives. The first two chapters deal with two

or some parts of south Asia, water has remained as a major obstacle to human advancement since long. In the eastern parts, as in Bangladesh and eastern India, annual monsoonal inundations have been seen as flood “disasters”. In the arid and semi-arid western parts, scarcity of water in the dry pre-monsoon months has been projected as droughts. Relief is the most commonly prescribed response to such events of “disaster”. The lack of, as well as need for, an interdisciplinary knowledge base for wise and sustainable management of water systems has also remained a silent disaster. Many books have been written to stress the need to change the manner of water management in south Asia, which was initiated by the British. That tradition has remained largely unchanged in south Asia, even 62 years after the British left. This book with contributions from a number of authors from diverse backgrounds is aimed at fi lling up that important knowledge gap. However, in accommodating a large number of papers, not all of which are of equal quality, the book runs the risk of looking like an assortment, losing f ocus as a result.

In the introduction chapter, Lahiri-Dutt articulates the multidimensionality of w ater and presents a very useful backdrop for the book. Of special significance in the chapter are the historical, cultural, political and sociological dimensions of water which were marginalised as reductionist water resource engineering assumed m onopoly over the management of water systems. The book is presented in three sections, starting with the regional politics of water in south Asia. In the first section, Iyer very ably presents the concerns for water management in the countries in south Asia individually, and then in relation with the trans-boundary rivers. His stress on the need to think of regional c ooperation beyond national governments or the private sector is of special i mportance. The next chapter by Gupta talks of river management challenges in the monsoon conditions of south Asia. He points

Water First: Issues and Challenges for Nations in South Asia edited by Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt and Robert J Wasson (New Delhi: Sage), 2008; pp 435, Rs 850.

out the reductionism behind looking at the rivers as sources of water to be e xtracted by structural interventions and argues that ideal river management involves a combination of geomorphology, ecology, economics, aquatic chemistry and engineering.

Hardiman in his chapter analyses the politics of water in colonial India. This topic is of great importance for understanding the present ways of governmental water resource management since the priorities and knowledge of w ater management in colonial India largely continues in south Asia. The regional politics of water sharing in south Asia has been addressed in the chapter by Hill. He takes the cases of the water sharing treaties on the Indus (between India and Pakistan) and the Ganges (between Bangladesh and India) and analyses the reasons behind the respective disputes. In his chapter, D’Souza addresses the much talked about but least understood ambitious project of river linking in India. He calls it “the final plunge for supply-side h ydrology in India” and describes the river-link project as absurd and banal. The first section is impressive and useful.

The second section is on regional issues, challenges and approaches. The section starts with a chapter on water quality and economic growth in India by Wasson. The chapter is rather theoretical and does not grapple with the more fundamental problems of regulatory failures and corporate social irresponsibility. Pollution of rivers has generated many people’s movements that are expected in such a volume. In this section, the chapter by Sen on w atershed development programmes is an important contribution by giving a h istorical account of the evolution of w atershed development as a programme. The futuristic descriptions of institutional measures are as important as the call

August 1, 2009

of the most celebrated and written about community actions on water in India – the achievements of the Tarun Bharat Sangh in Rajasthan and the struggle for justice and equity known through the name “Narmada Bachao Andolan”. The analysis of transnational environmentalism presented in the chapter by Whitehead is i mportant. This is because foreigners, when they arrive in India as highly paid donor consultants are often seen as the undiluted creators of “development”, but when voluntary activists from the same parts of the world visit India to extend support to movements, they become “agents against develop ment”. Such categorisation, nevertheless, has wide acceptance among the Indian middle classes.

The diversity of topics in the book would benefit researchers on water systems who are willing to cross boundaries of d isciplines and concepts. In this respect, one important aspect that has not been well-represented is the search for an answer to the question of why are formal water management professionals so insulated from new and interdisciplinary know ledges on water systems. How long can a country like India, with the fourth largest number of billionaires in the world and the largest number of people (225 million) living without safe drinking water avoid accepting new knowledge and modern h oli stic management p rac tices for water? This book provides a useful collection of chapters and will be of interest to readers in south Asia, as well as, d evelopment professionals, social acti vists and water systems engineers everywhere.


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vol xliv no 31

Economic & Political Weekly

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