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A Water Miscellany


Ramaswamy R. Iyer

WATER MANAGEMENT IN RURAL SOUTH INDIA AND SRI LANKA: EMERGING THEMES AND CRITICAL ISSUES, PROCEEDINGS OF THE INDO-FRENCH ROUND TABLE AT THE FRENCH INSTITUTE OF PONDICHERRY, 31 OCTOBER 2001
Edited by Patrice Cohen and S. Janakarajan
Institut Francais de Pondicherry, 2003, pp. 189, price not stated.

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 5-6 May/June 2004

As the sub-title indicates, this book embodies the proceedings of a Round Table on water held at Pondicherry by the French Institute of Pondicherry in collaboration with the Madras Institute of Development Studies. It is an interesting and useful compilation, but is rather different from what the title might lead one to expect. The title gives equal importance to South India and Sri Lanka, but there is only one chapter about Sri Lanka in the book. The inadequate coverage of the Sri Lankan situation is of course acknowledged at the end of the Introduction, but it is a fact that needs to be noted in this review. Secondly, the title specifies ‘rural’ but urban water supply figures prominently in the book. This is explained as due to “the real interaction of the availability between rural zones and urban areas”, but chapters 6 (by Paul Appasamy) and 7 (by J. Ruet and M-H Zerah) are entirely about urban water supply. Again, the title mentions ‘water management’ but that term has to be given a wide interpretation if the various chapters in the book are to fit under it. Here the explanation given is in terms of ‘interdisciplinarity’, but it is not wholly convincing. The compilation (it is not quite a book) is best read as a loose miscellany on water.       Unfortunately, it is not easy to read. Many of the papers were evidently written in French and then translated (not too well) into English, or perhaps written in English by French authors with an imperfect command over English; whichever be the case, the resulting English is often clumsy and unclear. The entire collection would have benefited from careful copy-editing by someone with a good knowledge of English.       Having made those two preliminary criticisms, one must note that there is much valuable material in this compilation. In Part I, the first chapter by P. Komathinayagam on ‘Socio-economic and Technological History of Irrigation’ traces the history of irrigation in Tamil Nadu from ancient times, provides some technical details of old structures, quotes from Sangam literature, draws attention to past engineering skills as well as institutional strengths, and points out how old works, practices and institutions have declined for a number of reasons including the weakening of community organizations under the new colonial dispensation, the development of canal irrigation, and the technology-driven and policy-supported emergence of groundwater-drilling. It points out that colonial and post-colonial ‘modern’ development ...


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