Water in India: from ‘hydraulic society’ to automated water

This project is interested in multiple aspects of water governance in India that all bear on the transition from piped water provision to decentralized water ATMs, on the one hand, and continued infrastructure development and river-linking programs on the other.

This project began with research I have been doing on the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), which was created as India’s first post-colonial project in river-basin planning. It was modelled after the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States and has now transitioned not only through changes in approaches to flood management and electricity generation, but also through trade liberalization, climate change, and austerity policies after the 2008 global financial crisis. This aspect of the project begins in the archives to understand the central role of water in West Bengal across its numerous dimensions: flood, drought, control, contest, and colonization. It then moves through landscapes of change that have adjusted to regional shifts in monsoons owing to climate change, land-use planning challenges, and changing expectations regarding government-led water management. This part of the study emerged directly out of research for my recent book, which traced (among other things) the connection of US water expertise to West Bengal.

Kolkata Water ATMWhile in Kolkata many years ago I spied its first water ATM (pictured here but with the attendant gone for a lunch break).  Since then I have been developing a related project on the role of new technologies and delivery networks for water in India. The first article for this project is with Water Alternatives and can be read for free here and is built on a data set of 370 news articles I gathered from 2016-2019 on all of the announced and installed water ATMs that made the news globally.

The data base I’m developing isn’t comprehensive, of course, but it provides a good basis for thinking further about water ATMs and their social, economic, ecological, and ethical dimensions. There are now thousands of these machines across urban, peri-urban, and rural India. My initial thinking around them is as a kind of pop-up infrastructure (see the paper linked above). Anyhow, an overwhelming number of the media stories globally were focused on India, so I’m starting this project there and engaging a number of partners to move it forward internationally.

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