Water management traditions in the central-western Himalayas : a study by People's Science Institute

The study reviews a variety of water harvesting structures that have evolved over the millennia in central western Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand
22 May 2009
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The report highlights how traditionally, local communities exercised rights of ownership, use and management over their natural resources in the Himalayan states. They devised a variety of management systems suited to their own specific situation. Sanskar (precepts and rites), sanskriti (culture and customary practices) and niti (state policy and administration) were the bases of water harvesting traditions and their longevity. Individual dharma and social customs were the necessary conditions for sustaining these traditions, while local autonomy in resource management was the critical sufficient condition.
However, the report argues that, colonial governments eliminated these traditional rights and powers of local communities in their territories of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. They chose to make state powers supreme and gave some limited rights to individuals. A similar approach has also been taken up in the post-independence period, which has been to adopt, expand and amend the same colonial legal and administrative framework.

The report argues that the legal and administrative changes during the colonial and post-colonial periods have thus gradually, but systematically replaced community management of water resources with state management. Despite massive investments in the physical and administrative structures after independence, the increase in the amount and reliability of water supplies for domestic use and irrigation has not been significant or in keeping with the norms. At the same time, there has been a steady decline in the functioning and maintenance of the traditional water management structures and systems in the Central-Western Himalayan region.

However, despite the weakened condition of the traditional structures, many
mountain communities still consider their functioning sources to be more reliable
than the newly installed government systems. The report argues for and  proposes a plan of action to urgently revive and adapt the traditional water harvesting structures in the present context and suggests the following steps:

  • Enumeration of the water bodies, structures and systems, to find out which are still functioning and which are not.
  • To renovate, restore and protect the existing traditional water harvesting structures, wherever they are still in use.
  • To upgrade useful traditional water technologies
  • To reinculcate the sanskars, particularly the reverence for water, to revive the sanskriti of yore and to restore local autonomy to sustain the built resources
  • To motivate people to take initiatives and reduce their dependence on the overnment.
  •  To upgrade traditional management systems, particularly in the changed social context.
  • The Panchayati Raj and the urban local bodies constitutional amendments offer opportunities to move away from choosing between government or private, individual or corporate  ownership of resources, by considering local communities as an option. These amendments can be the basis for restoring ownership, control and management of water resources to local communities.

Download the report from below:


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