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A Commodity Called Water

V.S. Vyas

Edited by Vishwa Ballabh
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 386, Rs. 950.00


In the current discussion on water sector reforms one can discern a wide and growing consensus on key issues. It is generally agreed that water is a finite commodity; it has to be looked at in a holistic manner; it has the characteristics of being a social as well as an economic good; the need to conserve water is as important as the desirability of containing demand, etc. Yet at the ground level these principles are hardly respected. In this context one would like to identify the reasons for this gap between what is professed and what is implemented. One of the important reasons, obviously, is the failure of governance at various levels. The book under review discusses different facets of governance in the water sector. The contributors to this volume are well known scholars in this area and many of them, additionally, have rich administrative and field experience. The book has four sections dealing with (i) governance, (ii) pricing and subsidies in surface water, (iii) ground water governance, and (iv) the concluding section, the way forward. As should be expected in a book that is a collection of papers contributed by different writers there is a large degree of overlap of themes and presentations.   Issues of governance have been examined from three perspectives: legal, public administration and institutional. The definition of governance used in many of the papers is very broad. In his insightful paper Ramaswamy Iyer warns against too much preoccupation with the definition of ‘governance’ and lists serious issues in the water sector, e.g. rural water supply, canal water irrigation, ground water management, issue of large projects, and makes a plea to discuss these and other relevant issues from financial, economic and management points of view, from users’ as well as from the point of view of delivering agencies. Equally important is his discussion on whether water should be treated as a tradable commodity or if it should be considered a natural good. His conclusion, endorsed by many other contributors, is that access to minimum necessary supply of water to each household should be treated in the ‘right mode’, and only when water is used as an input in economic activities does it acquire an economic value.   Two neglected aspects of water management, viz., risk reduction and the survival needs of water are discussed in two insightful papers. Risk reduction and coping with drought cannot be ...

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