Groundwater markets in Ganga-Meghna-Brahmaputra basin: theory and evidence - a review

The paper reviews the role of groundwater market, its evolution, spread, mode of functioning and impact in Ganga-Meghna-Brahamputra basin and concludes that these markets have a beneficial impact

This paper published in Economic and Political Weekly reviews 13 papers (from 1974 to 2003) on groundwater markets in the region, in order to understand the role of groundwater markets in the GMB Basin, in the context of increased  importance of water markets and the rapid agricultural transition in the region.  Groundwater markets have emerged as an important rural institution in the Ganga-Meghna-Brahmaputra (GMB) basin. The various aspects of this market such as its evolution, spread, mode of functioning and impact are analysed in this paper.

A review of these studies reveals that groundwater markets have a beneficial impact in regions of abundant recharge, such as the GMB basin. The review finds that being a relatively new field of study, certain glaring gaps have remained in the way water markets have been studied. For example,

  • There has been a regional bias, in that groundwater markets have been
    better studied in water scarce regions than in water abundant regions.
  • There has been a lack of historical perspective in groundwater market research
  • The relation between development of groundwater markets and level of agricultural development continues to be imperfectly understood
  • The role of ‘power’ has been widely used to formulate theories on labour and credit markets. However, in the study of water markets, not
    much attention has been paid to the question of power in rural
    society; if at all, the formulation has been very naïve and the
    water sellers have been depicted as ‘water lords’– those who exert
    absolute power over water buyers
  • Unlike other rural markets, such as labour and credit, there has so far been no attempt at formulating a general theory of groundwater markets


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