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Water institutions and the 'revival' of tanks in south India: What is at stake locally?

Olivia Aubriot
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France; at the time of the research (2005-2008), the French Institute of Pondicherry, India; oaubriot@vjf.cnrs.fr
P. Ignatius Prabhakar
SEEDS-India; at the time of the research, the French Institute of Pondicherry, India; iprabhakar@yahoo.com

ABSTRACT: In India, the 'revival' of seasonal lake-reservoirs (tanks) is part of decentralisation and participatory management reforms regarding surface water, whereby programmes to rehabilitate these centuries-old infrastructures have made mandatory the creation of formal water users associations (WUAs). In Tamil Nadu, South India, WUAs are created without even taking into account the existence of customary institutions'€™ ways of managing tanks, and thus the WUAs either run parallel to the latter, lead to their decline or ensure continuity with them. Conversely, in Puducherry'€™s tank rehabilitation project, customary institutions are purposely neglected in order to empower marginalised sections of the population. The aim of this article is to compare the impact of creating such a formal association on the decision-making process, taking as an example four formal associations. Whatever the project, its success or otherwise lies in the hands of the local elite -€“ either socio-economic or the new political elite -€“ while all committee members are affiliated to political parties. In such a context, we question the stakes behind being a member of a formal user association and, more specifically, how these associations impact water management, how knowledge about water is acquired -€“ especially with regard to groundwater recharge -€“ and how this vital resource is controlled.