Water, modern and multiple: Enriching the idea of water through enumeration amidst water scarcity in Bengaluru

Lindsay Vogt
Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies (ISEK), University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; lindsay.vogt@uzh.ch

ABSTRACT: Numeric abstractions relied upon by modern water management are reductive by design, but their political effects need not be reductionist, as an example from Bengaluru attests. Prompted by a water supply crisis that briefly shut down an IT corridor, one multinational corporation looked to a small environmental consultancy named Avaani, and its customised enumerative technologies – metering, tariff design, water audits and environmental balance ledgers – to mitigate water scarcity and its corresponding business interruptions. This occasioned the meeting and merging of two understandings of water: the modern water stripped of place and history that is so sought by the corporation in its daily water provisioning, and the water that is imbued with moral imperatives and local histories and which is tended by the non-profit organisation. As the enumerative idioms of Avaani soon proliferated throughout the corporation and its public outreach, the non-profit largely avoided the reduction, alienation and abstraction that characterises governmental enumeration; it did so in two ways: by using data collection as a 'spin-off' to curate and compound friendly encounters between people and water, and by embedding water accounting with moral considerations. This case shows how enumerative regimes, depending on their design and deployment, may contribute to a more multiple and multiply contextualised sense of water, even in situations of water scarcity where reductionist measurement tends to abound.

KEYWORDS: Enumeration, measurement, audit cultures, groundwater, water scarcity, NGO, development, Bengaluru, India