Publics@IIHS Bangalore


Underground Water: Techno-Political Ecology in ‘Unauthorised’ Delhi

Thursday | 5 November 2015 | 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM

India is the world’s largest user of groundwater, and North Indian aquifers are being depleted at some of the fastest rates in the world. As urbanisation increases, water security is likely to become an increasingly pressing issue. Like many of India’s fastest growing cities, groundwater use in peri-urban, unplanned areas of Delhi is extensive and essential, while also being weakly regulated. The minimal service provided through tubewells and tankers has till now allowed a discretionary role for elected representatives, while deferring the cost of providing treated ‘piped’ water and passing it to consumers forced to rely on expensive ‘informal’ supply through tankers, tubewell networks, and ‘local’ bottled water. This ‘underground political ecology’ of water, both sub-soil and illicit, is under-explored in research to date. Using the election of the Aam Aadmi Party and its mandate of providing water through a public network, and the emergence of Public Private Partnerships aimed at delivering water as a profitable enterprise, as two ‘diagnostic events’ this presentations analyses the techno-politics structuring human-water relationships in a complex and changing environment. It draws on 18 months’ field research with residents, private suppliers and government agencies, to follow these initiatives, and their attempted restructuring of water governance in two unauthorised colonies in the south of the city.

Matt Birkinshaw is a PhD researcher in Human Geography and Urban Studies at the London School of Economics. He studies urban infrastructure and governance in Indian cities with a focus on water supply in the south of Delhi. Matt has research experience supporting a number of projects, mainly working on South Asia and urban governance; and has professional experience with international and community development NGOs in various capacities.

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