Water to the people: drinking water and water for livelihoods - conflicts and alternative concepts in India – A report by Centre for World Solidarity (CWS) and Church Development Service (EED)

The study aims to facilitate the development of good practices in water management and to support people in their struggle for the right to access and control water as a common natural resource

This study is a part of water and democracy programme initiated by the Centre for World Solidarity (CWS) as a joint initiative with Church Development Service (EED) in 2007 involving more than 50 partner organisations in South Asia. The study aims to highlight some of the typical conflicts over water in India, and to present examples of possible solutions, which is meant to inspire the debate on water and encourage new ideas of democratic water management to form and take hold.

The activities of partner organisations presented here in this document range from developing practical hydrological tools for documenting groundwater depletion and efforts to improve the social organisation of water management, to social mobilization and political campaigning. The study offers insight into promising attempts and successful models of how joint efforts, using a broad range of technical, social and political knowledge, can assist people in their struggle for drinking water as well as water for agricultural use, water as an energy source and for the environment.

The case studies are introduced by a background analysis of the situation, all of which are defined by lack of access, no democratic participation in water management and increasing conflicts over water in India. The individual case studies illustrate the analysis of growing conflicts over limited water resources in a growing economy. The report is built upon the following case studies:

The Palar river is everywhere

At the Palar river in Tamil Nadu, where overexploitation for cities and industries as well as pollution and sand mining threatened the livelihoods of thousands of families, a local civil society organisation, GUIDE, supported formation of Village Resource Protection Committees and a 'Water Parliament', to help tackle the situation. Simple technologies, developed by CWS in Hyderabad and handled by the people themselves, such as participatory water monitoring and water budgeting, helped to build an own-knowledge body.

In defence of common property resources- the privatisation of groundwater and rivers

"Stopping Coca-Cola in Sivagangai", describes how people in Sivagangai near Madurai stopped Coca Cola and Shakti Sugar Mills from establishing a soft drink bottling plant which would have caused depletion and pollution of groundwater. In this effort, a local civil society organisation, PACT/Chase played a catalytic role and initiated a broad based campaign which supported the villagers in their struggle.

On similar lines, "Privatisation of Sheonath river", describes how communities of farmers, fisher-people and landless labourers, often Dalits and Adivasis, organised themselves against violations of their rights and successfully explored ways and means of bringing the river back into the public domain, after the river was "privatised" by a company to supply industries with water. This struggle was anchored by NGM, a local civil society organisation, with support from INSAF.

Less is more- sharing social regulation and hydraulic infrastructure

This article describes how parallel to struggles of local communities, local populations and communities supported by development organisations such as RIDS in Anantapur, IRDWSI in Semiliguda and MASS in Sambalpur have attempted to take advantage of the space provided by new legal and institutional approaches to water management, which include broader participation opportunities and responsibilities for local governance like the Panchayati Raj Institutions, to develop alternatives under their own control.

The latter three examples show how communities have developed their own solutions for irrigation and for energy supply, often based on traditional knowledge, technologies and social organisation and guided by principles and concepts like sharing water and non-competitive democratic mechanisms. These methods are opposed to mainstream policies like big centralised infrastructure, commercialisation and privatisation.

The case studies presented and discussed in this paper represent selected aspects of an “alternative paradigm” for water governance that both includes and benefits resource poor populations. They represent the working experience of the following organizations within the network of EED-supported partner organizations -

  • Rural Integrated Development Society (RIDS), Anantapur, partner organization of Centre for World Solidarity (CWS), Hyderabad
  • Gandhian Unit for Integrated Development Education (GUIDE), Chengalput, Tamil Nadu, partner organization of Centre for World Solidarity (CWS), Hyderabad
  • Community Health and Social Education Trust (CHASE)/Participatory Action Collective Tamil Nadu (PACT), Madurai, Tamil Nadu
  • Nadi Ghati Morcha (NGM), Raipur, Chhatisgarh, partner of Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), New Delhi
  • Manav Adhikar Seva Samity (MASS), Sambalpur, Orissa, partner organization of Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), Bhubaneswar
  • Integrated Rural Development of Weaker Sections of India (IRDWSI), Semiliguda, partner organization of Orissa Development Action Forum (ODAF).

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Church Development Service (Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst - EED) is an organisation of the Protestant Churches in Germany and supports the development work of churches, Christian and secular organisations. In this worldwide partnership, EED is participating in establishing a fair society by taking and promoting action to arouse and enhance people's willingness to stand up to overcome need, poverty, persecution and violence. 

Center for World Solidarity (CWS) is a voluntary organization founded as a Public Trust in 1992 to create a more just society. It works through a network of partnerships with voluntary groups, networks of NGO's and individuals to promote people centered, participatory development in five states of India namely Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar.

 

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