6. Equity and justice dimensions in rural-urban water flows

Learning objectives

  • Understand the different ways in changing rural – urban water flows deprive some individuals or groups of water at the expense of others
  • What the implications of this process are for the well-being of the latter.

Key Concepts

equity, livelihoods, social and cultural practices

1. Introduction

These processes represent clear conflicts of interest, though they do not appear as visible conflicts. Understanding why conflicts of interest do not necessarily translate into conflicts requires an understanding of unequal power relations that may allow such situations of inequity to persist. Several factors make periurban contexts fertile grounds for the study of water conflicts. First, rapid transition, land use change and a growing heterogeneity of interests are often features of the periurban interface. As demonstrated above, claimants over scarce land and water resources increase steadily and competition over resources multiplies. The process of appropriation of land and water resources from rural and periurban communities to protect the interests and support the infrastructure needs of the expanding city can breed grounds for contestation and conflict.

Second, these conflicts may arise from or be aggravated by institutional factors. The typical periurban problematique is that several environmental and social problems arise in periurban contexts, because of inadequate institutional cover; several subjects that cry out for attention in periurban contexts fall within the jurisdiction of neither urban nor rural governments. This apathy can create grounds for conflict between periurban residents and state agencies or authorities. Reorienting the state to focus on the needs and priorities of periurban communities can be an important way of preventing conflicts between state authorities and the former.

Third, while discussing more specifically conflicts around periurban water resources, an important issue that merits attention is the link between land tenure and water (in) security. When access to water is tied to ownership of land, concomitant with processes of land acquisition that sustain urban expansion is the loss of access to water sources located on them. While there has been much debate in India on the issues of land acquisition, the implications of this process for water security have received scant attention (Narain, 2009b). Other factors and processes characterizing periurban settings, such as the weakening of social ties and relationships on account of increasing rural-urban migration or the acquisition of common property resources that provide a social glue can further increase the vulnerability of some groups of people to the impacts of the changes underway (Narain 2014; Vij 2014).

Water & Justice: Periurban Pathways in Delhi

2. Origins of conflict

Under these circumstances, it is possible to identify different levels of conflicts peculiar to periurban contexts, but three types of conflicts deserve particular mention. First, conflicts between the urban and periurban communities; second, among the periurban communities, and third, between periurban communities and state agencies. Of these, the first two relate to growing competition among scarce resources, while the last one relates to limited attention to or poor coverage of periurban services by civic agencies.

Peri-urban conflicts occur when “incompatible interests” occur (Deutsch 1973) – with two basic elements, ‘conflict parties’ and ‘conflicts issues’ (Rapoport 1974). Water conflicts can arise between water users (conflict parties) relating to a water usage (conflicts issue).  For instance, construction of a water treatment plant in a peri-urban village for the city residents may cause a land/water conflict between the parties (city residents and urban development authority) who are in favor of the construction and the parties  that are interested in agriculture and rural development (farmers and agriculture and livestock development authorities). The conflict issue is the demand for water supply in the urban areas due to the expansion of the urban agglomeration. In addition, due to increasing water insecurity for drinking and other domestic uses such as food preparation, hygiene, and sanitation, informal means of water allocation may be common (Solo, 1999). For example, an increasing number of informal water vendors and small-scale private entrepreneurs may be present, making profits by selling water to poorer peri-urban communities, who lack access to water due to erratic state water provisions;due to ambiguous planning and absence of a clear regulatory framework for peri-urban areas, authorities cannot ensure good quality or sufficient quantity of water (Davilla, Budds & Minaya 1999).

Since urbanization processes involve the appropriation of land and water from certain uses to others, they raise questions about justice and equity. In so far as we understand conflicts to arise from forms of perceived injustice, periurban contexts are fertile grounds to study these phenomena. The top-down nature of urban expansion processes with little regard for considerations of equity and justice has been brought to the fore by much recent research on urbanization processes in India and the concomitant mushrooming of urban agglomerations and outgrowths  (Janakarajan 2009, Reddy and Reddy 2007, Arabindoo 2009, Narain and Nischal 2007; Narain 2009a, b; Narain 2014; Vij 2014;  Randhawa and Marshall 2014; Prakash and Singh et al. 2011).Janakarajan’s (2009) work on Chennai, Narain (2009a, b) and Vij (2014) on Gurgaon, and the work of Reddy and Reddy (2007) and Prakash and Singh et al. (2011) on Hyderabad highlight the inequitable nature of contemporary urbanization processes, compromising the needs of periurban communities to provide for the needs of growing cities. In the Indian periurban literature there is a growing demand for more transparent and equitable processes of land acquisition and stakeholder engagement with a specific focus on periurban communities, including efforts at the formation of multiple stakeholder platforms (Janakarajan 2009; Narain 2009a;Vij, 2014; Randhawa and Marshall 2014).

Key Readings

Key Readings

  • Shatkin, G. (2007). Global cities of the South: Emerging perspectives on growth and inequality, Cities, 24(1), 1–16.

Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions

  • How does changing rural – urban water flows deprive some individuals or groups of water at the expense of others? How can this be addressed?
  • What are some of the impacts of these processes?

Further Readings

Further Readings

  • Vij, S. (2014). Urbanization, Common Property Resources and Gender Relations in a Peri-urban Context. Vision: The Journal of Business Perspective, 18(4), 339-347.
  • Vij, S., Narain, V., (2015) Land, water & power: The demise of common property resources in periurban Gurgaon, India, Land Use Policy 50, 59-66.
  • Bon, E., 2000. Common property resources: two case studies. Econ. Political Weekly 35 (28–29), 2569–2573.
  • Jodha, N.S., 1986. Common property resources and rural poor in dry regions of India. Econ. Political Weekly 21 (27), 1169–1178.

Other related International Waters Lessons and Submodules


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