Working Paper
Lush Fields and Parched Throats

The Political Economy of Groundwater in Gujarat

Groundwater resources in Gujarat (India) have been depleting at an darning rate in recent years. The most visible symptom of this phenomenon is the decline of water tables in large pats of the state. The scarcity of groundwater is most severe during drought years, when even drinking water is often hard to obtain, but is not confined to those years. The depletion of groundwater resources in Gujarat cannot be explained by declining rainfall levels. Rather, it is the rapid spread of energised water extraction mechanisms (one aspect of recent transformations in agricultural technology) that has led to enormous increases in draft. Overexploitation and inequity are two closely related features of current groundwater utilisation patterns. While a variety of measures can be taken to reduce groundwater depletion, most of  them have severe limitations due to the current structure of property rights, the unequal distribution of political power and the ineffectiveness of the state bureaucracy. Four types of measures can be distinguished: state regulation of the private sector, positive involvement of the public sector, community management and redefinition of property rights. One particular form of intervention, based on a combination of these different approaches, is suggested in this paper as a useful short-term measure. Ultimately, however, radical changes in property rights are needed to deal adequately with this aspect of the current environmental crisis in Gujarat.