Annual conference 2013: Agrarian crisis in India?

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Article courtesy by Cornell University South Asia Program| November 12, 2012 | Source: Cornell University

There have always been agrarian crises in India — for individuals, whole classes, sectors, districts, for some crops, in some years. Our conference investigates current characterizations of crisis in both media and political circles. The Prime Minister has called the armed insurrection of ‘Maoists’ the gravest threat ever to Indian security; many accounts link radicalism to desperation and landlessness. Probably the most dominant symbol of agrarian crisis is reportage of unusually high farmer suicide rates.

Characterizations and causes of crisis in academic and popular studies are multiple and divergent. Bt cotton receives prominent coverage. Debt resulting from liberalization of farm credit runs through others. Crop failures figure prominently, whether from failure of government monitoring of counterfeit or risky seeds or biological changes in specific agro-ecologies. Water shortages are held to reflect some combination of climate change and a tragedy of the commons built by populist political competition. The rate of growth in factor productivity has declined sharply, even as cuts in input subsidies have narrowed the margin between costs of production and value of output. State acquisition of farmland by eminent domain works with market diversion of land from farm to consumption in some accounts. Running through these multiple causes for crisis is absence or misdirection of state response. How should we understand the framings of crisis? If there is crisis, how do we understand the political impotence of those afflicted in a vigorous democracy?

If your current work lies within the broad theme described in the blurb below, please contact one or all of us regarding participation. We are envisioning a limited number of papers directly addressing key elements (seed, water, suicide, landlessness etc.) but hope also to assemble several panels of discussants who would respond to the papers from their own perspectives and research experience.

If you are interested in participating please send us before the end of October a one-paragraph self-description emphasizing where your own work might intersect with the conference / workshop focus. We look forward to hearing from you and hope for lively interdisciplinary and cross-campus participation.

Ann Grodzins Gold, Religion and Anthropology, Syracuse

Ron Herring, Government, Cornell

Anoop Sadanandan, Political Science, Syracuse

Water in South Asia:
Challenges in a Changing Environment / April 4th- 8th, 2012:

This years panels consisted in part:

In the past 20 years, natural disasters have taken an incredible toll in South Asia, causing more than 250,000 deaths and affecting at least 50 percent of the population. Mitigating the effects of disasters and climate change is also a key component of poverty reduction and development in the region. This panel will examine the impacts of natural disasters and climate change on households and communities in South Asia, and potential ways of mitigating their effects. Issues to be addressed may include: social dimensions of disaster vulnerability; urbanization and disasters; policies and planning for disaster risk reduction; impacts of disasters and climate change on rural and indigenous communities; and local, national, and regional approaches to reducing carbon emissions.

Moderator: Karim-Aly S. Kassam, Cornell University

Shiv Someshwar, Columbia University

Climate and development: Bringing Science Back to Adaptation

Science has been at the forefront in raising awareness of the changing nature of climate, and it’s likely impact on ecosystems and socio-economic development. Further, it has enabled a diversity of stakeholders to bring pressure on governments to try resolving globally contentious issues of “historic responsibility” and “collective action.” Paradoxically, science has been a key missing element informing programmatic action of governments on adaptation (and mitigation). With a focus on water resources, this presentation will discuss the nature of this S&T development gap and potential ways to address them, globally and in the context of south Asia

Daanish Mustafa, King’s College London, UK

Hydro-Hazardscapes of South Asia: Redefining Adaptation and Resilience to Global Climate Change

Epistemological commitment to reactive mitigation and adaptation to modelling scenarios of high end climate science is likely to have limited efficacy in the South Asian cultural, institutional and developmental context. The almost universal hegemony of narrowly defined developmental and technocratic discourses at the policy level coupled with pervasive poverty, cultural diversity and multiple drivers of vulnerability at the local level in South Asia are major challenges to the transference of a Western agenda of climate adaptation. The need is for the modernist monologue on vulnerability and adaptation to be changed into a dialogue where high science and policy can learn from and contribute to vulnerable populations’ everyday strategies of adapting and coping with hazards as well as struggles for diversified and stable livelihoods. With reference to Pakistan floods of 2010 and water management case studies in Pakistan I identify four main challenges to more efficacious climate adaptation regimes in South Asia: (1) repositioning a concern with socially driven vulnerability at the centre of policy discourse on development, disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation, (2) demonstrating the linkage between environmental quality and poverty reduction, (3) dialogue between modern scientific community and local level actors, both women and men, and (4) reinsertion of indigenous cultural knowledge on the environment and world views in national and regional policy.

Andrew Rumbach, Cornell University

The City Vulnerable: New Town Planning, Informality, and the Geography of Disaster in Kolkata

New towns are a defining spatial feature of contemporary urban development in India. In this paper I explore the intersection of new town planning and disaster risk in Kolkata, West Bengal. I focus on the case of Salt Lake, a new town project completed in the mid-20th century that is now home to 275,000 people. Salt Lake, like many new town projects, was built on hazardous land in the urban periphery, in the flood plain of the Hooghly River. I find that Salt Lake creates an environmental landscape that is exemplary of fractured urbanism, where middle and upper class people inhabit the formal, planned, safe spaces, but rely on large numbers of poor and working class people who end up living in hazardous slums and squatter settlements nearby. My presentation is based on field research done in Kolkata in 2009-2010 and draws from survey and archival data gathered in and around Salt Lake.[/toggle]

[toggle title=” Panel 2: Drinking Water (Urban/Rural Issues of Governance)” height=”auto”]

In 2005, the World Bank predicted that the Indian subcontinent was on the brink of a severe water shortage, particularly in providing potable and safe water supplies to its rural and urban populations. Five years later, the predictions are no less dire: more lower-income households in South Asia have access to cell phones than they do to potable water. Even though there have been efforts to increase supply—for example, the Government of India recently claimed that it had been able to supply 84 percent of its rural populations with access to water—many critics note that this water is often unsafe, carrying waterborne diseases and other contaminants. This panel will examine the politics and governance of providing potable water, in rural and urban environments across South Asia. It seeks to address the question: in what ways would access to potable water improve health, nutrition, education, literacy, and quality of life among the many in South Asia who suffer from water insecurity?

Moderator: Farhana Sultana, Syracuse University

Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner, Massachusetts Institue of Technology

When the Taps Run Dry: Citizen Claim-Making & Access to Drinking Water in Rural India

Access to drinking water is not only essential to human welfare and development but is also an important indicator of the quality of local governance and citizenship practice, that is: the ability of citizens to claim and secure publicly-mandated goods and services. This paper examines access to public sources of drinking water in the drought prone state of Rajasthan, India, drawing on an original survey of 2210 households across 105 villages. Although official water sources exist in all villages, the survey reveals substantial inter and intra-village variation in distance to and frequency and reliability of water supply. Efforts to secure drinking water therefore emerge as a primary arena of local citizen-state interaction, and encompass a diverse array of claim-making practices: direct and mediated, institutionalized and contentious. The paper explores how and why people engage the state differently around the issue of drinking water, examining factors such as class, caste, gender, and social networks in shaping claim-making repertoires.

Lisa Bjorkman, New School

The Making of a Slum: the Historical Hydrology of a Mumbai Neighborhood

Academic and policy debates about urban water provision increasingly sit at the intersection of two sets of crisis predictions: that of explosive urban population growth and that of localized water scarcity. The global drinking water crisis is thus expected to occur in – and because of – the global South’s proliferating “slums.” Yet an exploration of the hydraulic history of one of Mumbai’s largest and most hydrologically-dystopic slums complicates the common theorization of urban terrain through the set of dichotomies of planned or unplanned; not-slum or slum. I demonstrate that the neighborhood’s water problems are not determined by the neighborhood’s status as a slum; rather, I suggest that the neighborhood has become a slum largely as a result of its water problems

Parvathy Binoy, Syracuse University

Resisting Neoliberalism?: Drinking Water and the Spatial Production of Environmental Justice in Plachimada

This paper seeks to understand the spatial production of environmental justice struggles for water in Kerala, by focusing on the Plachimada Anti Coca Cola movement. This movement, which began in the early 2000s, was led by Adivasi women in resistance to the depletion and pollution of drinking water in the community due to the manufacturing process of the local Coca Cola plant. Through a critical political ecological lens, I argue that instead of uncritically reifying the movement as a successful anti-capitalist struggle, it needs to be historio-geographically situated within material contestations for the right to subsistence and citizenship. Therefore it becomes crucial that we interrogate these social movements for drinking water from the household and community based level to the institutional spheres of water governance – all of which, I argue, are deeply imbricated (spatially and politically) within Kerala’s rapid neoliberal transition. Through a feminist political ecological lens, I also explore ways in which gendered and indigenous subjectivities and resistance are created within these struggles for water and co-opted by state environmentalism.

Attachment Size
Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner presentation 1.85 MB


[toggle title=” Panel 3: Irrigation and Agricultural Uses of Water ” height=”auto”]

Agriculture development in South Asia has hinged on the expansion of irrigation to increase crop yields. Though rain-fed agriculture is possible in some areas of South Asia, most agriculture is dependent on irrigation, particularly tube wells. By 2001, an estimated 63 percent of irrigation in India relied on groundwater. This panel will consider the ways in which water is utilized in agricultural landscapes in South Asia and the impacts that these uses have on social, economic, and ecological systems. Issues to be addressed include, but are not limited to, social and economic inequities caused by differential access to irrigation resources, competition over water for drinking, industrial and agricultural purposes, depletion of aquifers, agricultural runoff as nonpoint source pollution, and problems with soil fertility due to water logging and increased salinity.

Moderator: Gilbert Levine, Cornell University

Bharat Kushal Punjabi, University of Toronto

Wet Canals and Dry Fields: The Political Economy of Water in the Mumbai Countryside

Recent scholarship on South Asian water politics has rightly pointed out that certain key characteristics of the otherwise vibrant debate on water resources have led to a failure in the transformation of water governance(Mollinga 2010). A key argument is that the framing of the water question by researchers and activists in a polarized state/village binarism has reinforced the material conditions of technology and political economy, which in turn have led to this current impasse in water governance. However, emerging inter- sectoral conflicts and inter-dependencies over water could form part of the concrete basis for reconfiguring research and the future governance of water resources away from such binarism. The physical reality of ‘closing basins’ shows the need for interest groups to negotiate core issues of water quality and the allocation of rights at the intermediate level. Neither centralized nor local governance arrangements are and will be able to address the issues at this level. In my research on water politics in the Mumbai-Thane region, I focus on how conflict between urban and rural use is leading to a situation in which marginal groups in rural areas are suffering the most. At the same time, advocacy approaches of local social movements to the water question have remained focused on the canal and village level, and have thus not developed the tools to tackle issues of water management at the regional level.

Trevor Birkenholtz, Rutgers University

Irrigation and the Urbanization of Water: A Case from Rajasthan

Rural to urban transfers of water are reconfiguring the relationship between the urban and the rural throughout South Asia, with particular implications for irrigated agriculture. This paper draws on a case study from central Rajasthan to explore the connections between urbanization, irrigated agriculture and farmer livelihoods during the urbanization of water process. Explicitly, it details a series of urban infrastructure development projects that aim to provide water to Jaipur, Rajasthan’s capital city, through the construction of both peri-urban tubewells and of a dam/reservoir complex near Bisalpur, 100 km to the south of the city. The paper then goes on to investigate the way that these rural to urban transfers of both ground and surface water are reworking peri-urban and rural irrigation processes, as well as their relationships with the urban. The paper concludes with thoughts for what these new connections, which are at once social, ecological and technological, mean for farmer livelihoods in the affected areas, including their prospects for continued irrigation under increasingly variable conditions, such as from climate change induced variability, evaporating water supplies and unpredictable commodity prices.

Norman Uphoff, Cornell University

Water-Saving Opportunities with Expanded Grain Production in South Asia

Water shortages and drought conditions are becoming more frequent and widespread in India and other countries of South Asia. Expanding irrigated area is very costly and not always physically feasible. It has been found that making modifications in the way that crops, soil, water and nutrients are managed can raise the productivity of both irrigated and upland rice production, through what is called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI, which originated in Madagascar three decades ago, has been validated in over 40 countries around the world. Water reductions for irrigated rice cultivation are in the range of 25-50% with yields being increased by 30-100% or more. Usually there is reduction in labor and other inputs, so that incomes are enhanced by more than the increase in yield. Surprisingly, SRI methods are being extended and extrapolated to other crops under light or no irrigation – wheat, sugarcane, millet, sorghum, rapeseed, even some vegetables. This innovation suggests that management changes which focus on increasing the soil’s organic matter and biodiversity, enhancing root growth, can make crops less water-demanding and more drought-resistant.

[/toggle] [toggle title=” Panel 4: Managing Rivers ” height=”auto”]

Rivers have an important valence to those living on the Indian subcontinent: some are sacred, others are vehicles for irrigating the fertile land around them, and many are central to providing water for various uses to the people who live on their banks. In recent years, floods, monsoons, and human pollution have devastated these human-water relationships. This panel will examine how rivers are managed, imagined, and used in South Asia, with a particular focus on pollution broadly conceived.

Moderator: Gail Holst-Warhaft, Cornell University

Imran Khalid, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Rethinking a Treaty: New Approaches to Transboundary Environmental Decision-Making in South Asia

This paper discusses future cooperation between India and Pakistan over water issues via the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. Despite having gone to war twice and having been involved in numerous other geopolitical entanglements, the two countries have remained party to the Treaty. However, recent years have seen a rise in rhetoric emanating from both countries as they try to meet the water needs of a growing population as well as deal with uncertainties caused by climate change. It is in this context that the paper analyzes the role strategic approaches such as Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment (TEIA) and Backcasting might play in strengthening the Indus Waters Treaty. One special reason for exploring such approaches is due to their utility in engaging the public and civil society actors, across borders, in environmental decision-making. The potential for enhancing local environmental legislation through such interactive approaches is also explored.

Sya Buryn Kedzior, Humboldt State

Water Quality Management and Pollution Abatement in India’s “National River”

In 2009, PM Singh and the Government of India (GoI) designated the Ganges as the “national river” and a symbol of the nation. In support of renewed commitments to reduce pollution levels in the river, the Central Government launched the newly organized National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) and committed US$4 billion for river clean up and conservation. These efforts add to a long history of centrally planned and largely unsuccessful schemes to address the problem of pollution in India’s most prominent waterway. Yet, failure of the previous Ganga Action Plan to significantly improve water quality did not stop the GoI from using it as the template for water quality management plans for the country’s other principal rivers. Now, the new programs promising a clean Ganges are leading observers and critics to ask whether or not the government can fulfill the commitment made before its own Supreme Court to clean the river by 2020. This paper explores the development of river water quality management in India, asking how the battle to clean up the Ganges came to be viewed as a test of national unity, political will and state power.

Nidhi Pasi, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Is Inter-Basin Regional Water Transfer a Possible Remedy for Solving Water Crisis in India?: A Case Study of Interlinking of River (ILR) Project in India.

Almost one-third of India suffers from acute water shortage while at the same time one-eighth of India is susceptible to flooding. To address this “paradox of floods and drought” the paradigm of Regional Water Transfer (RWT) forms the basis of the Interlinking of Rivers project in India. This project envisions linking 37 rivers of 20 major basins in the country through 31 links and 400 reservoirs. This techno-centric paradigm, however, fails to recognize the interdependency of relationships between natural and the political, economic, social and cultural systems. This has manifested in the multitude of concerns (environmental, social, legal, ethical/spiritual, lack of community participation, financial) vis-à-vis the project. Similar other schemes have resulted in ecological disasters or negative social implications. Given the shortcomings of ILR, is RWT a viable policy option for India or is the paradigm of ecosystem-based management a rational option for managing water resources and rivers in India?

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