Ecology and equity in rights to land and water: A study in south-eastern Palakkad in Kerala

Jyothi Krishnan
Independent Researcher, Thrissur, Kerala, South India; jyothikr07@gmail.com
Abey George
Kerala Institute of Local Administration, Thrissur, India; abeygeorgek@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: This article explores the impact of the existing property rights regime over land and water on the sustainable and equitable management and use of these resources, in the context of changing irrigation practices in a paddy-growing area in the south-eastern part of the Palakkad district in Kerala, India. Since land rights determine rights to water in the area, the article discusses the changing rights regime over land, primarily after the implementation of land reforms in 1970. It shows how the implementation of land reforms and nationalization of private forests have paid little attention to the ecological context in which redistribution was taking place. As a result, while an agricultural-cum- forested landscape was divided into privately owned and government owned parcels, the ecological relationships between these different land use categories were ignored. In the same vein, land and water were treated as separate entities, with redistribution of land rights overlooking the distribution of water rights. The compartmentalized view of resources coupled with the consolidation of the private property regime has resulted in a situation where landowners exploit the resource without any consideration for its ecological characteristics and inter-resource linkages. The failure to view land and water in integration has precipitated inequitable access and unsustainable use of water. In addition, the availability of external water supplies and the introduction of energised pumping facilitate the enclosure of water within privately owned land parcels. The article concludes that a re-envisioning of rights to resources within the concerned ecological context is necessary if sustainable and equitable resource use and management are to be achieved.