Unequal wastewater rights and claims in Gujarat: Institutional dynamics between urban and rural

Alka Palrecha
People in Centre Consulting, Ahmedabad, India; alka@peopleincentre.org

Aashini Sheth
People in Centre Consulting, Ahmedabad, India; asheth.2695@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: Compared to long-standing scholarly debates on freshwater rights, wastewater rights discussions are in their infancy. This is because wastewater, until recently, was viewed as a nuisance. Now, wastewater, often referred to as 'used water', is considered a resource, mainly because of its use as a replacement for fresh water. Many states in India are forming policies promoting the reuse of wastewater. However, their policy framework around wastewater does not pay adequate attention to existing users of wastewater. Benefits are gained from a resource through rights granted or claims made. Institutions are authorised to grant rights, and individuals and institutions benefit from these rights at various levels. According to Ostrom and Schlager’s (1992) categorisation, which was later modified by Sikor et al. (2017), this "bundle of rights" specifically includes authoritative, control, and use rights. In this paper, the authors amend this categorisation and then link it to the institutions in India responsible for dispensing each kind of right related to wastewater use. The authors thus derive an analytical framework, which they then apply to a case study examining wastewater produced by the city of Rajkot, Gujarat, India. The case study shows that though urban local bodies have authoritative and executive rights, their rights are subordinated to the union government and state government because they must align with those bodies in order to avail funds for wastewater-related infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, the existing users of wastewater are not mentioned amongst the various wastewater uses prioritised in policy instruments. The rural sector thus has limited rights granted in upcoming policies even though they are the largest users of wastewater.

KEYWORDS: Wastewater reuse, rights, claims, informal use, usufructuary rights, Gujarat, India