Over-disciplined: ‘Water, ecosystems and society’ by Jayanta Bandyopadhyay

Following in a long line of analysis, talk shows on television on several occasions over the past summer featured experts who made politically correct statements in favour of a series of upstream dams that would restrict the Yamuna River from any further flooding of New Delhi. As if on cue, over the same months residents of the capital city saw the Yamuna's waters swell to levels not seen in decades, sending people and the government back to 1978, when the river had inundated large parts of the metropolitan area. But while the floodwaters did eventually subside, as they did in 1978, like a bad dream the suggestion of the possibility of damming the Yamuna's flow continues to haunt engineers, planners and politicians. But such suggestions ride on constricted public memory, of a type that rarely recalls past misadventures. Nurtured by planning ideology that remains subservient to the political economy of development, engineers have made water management into an exclusive domain reserved solely for themselves. As a consequence, the governance of water systems has remained stagnant as a discipline.

Water, Ecosystems & Society argues that as long as water remains hostage to engineers' tenets, the prevailing scarcity scenario is likely to worsen further. Even while lamenting an absence of inter-disciplinary science and a lack of institutional innovation in the water sector, Jayanta Bandyopadhyay wonders whether India has run out of time in preparing for the middle of this century – the suggested point at which the country's total annual water demand will exceed availability. Curiously, however, finding a solution to the problems of growing water demand and scarcity inevitably entails redistributing established water rights, at the cost of location- and context-specific manifestations of the ramifications of the water crises.

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Himal Southasian