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Exploiting policy obscurity for legalising water grabbing in the era of economic reform: The case of Maharashtra, India

Subodh Wagle
School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Science, Deonar, Mumbai, India; subodhwagle@gmail.com
Sachin Warghade
PRAYAS, Kothrud, Pune, India; and TISS, Deonar, Mumbai, India; sachinwarghade@gmail.com
Mandar Sathe
PRAYAS, Kothrud, Pune, India; mvs.prayas@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: Since the last two decades, economic reform in India is exerting pressure on limited land and water resources. This article argues that sectoral reforms underway in different areas such as water, electricity, and the export sector are giving rise to a new form of water grabbing in the state of Maharashtra, India. This water grabbing is legitimised by the use, application and redefinition of reform instruments such as the sectoral policy statements and laws. Maharashtra, like many other Indian states, has been a theatre for the play of power among different interest groups over control and access to water resources developed through state funding. Dams were built at the cost of depriving the upland riparian communities of their land, water and other resources. The water provided by the dams - which strengthened the political power of the leaders representing the irrigated plains - is now at the core of a shift in regional power equations. Based on case studies of three dams the paper presents these contemporary developments around water allocation and re-appropriation. These developments pertain to the shift from the erstwhile focus on securing water for irrigation to the new focus of securing water to facilitate international and domestic private investments. The paper concludes by arguing that the state is able to legitimise this form of water grabbing due the emergence of a new and grand political coalition and nexus that has emerged at the behest of the ongoing economic reforms.

KEYWORDS: Water grabbing, entitlements, reforms, independent regulatory authority, India