Participation at the Crossroads: Decentralisation and Water Politics in West Bengal
Bhaskar Chakrabarti
140 x 216 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Orient BlackSwan

There is a trend the world over to make governments more accountable and responsive to local people through decentralisation of authority. Such an effort is aimed at overcoming inefficient allocation of natural resources by centrally administered agencies. The objective is to encourage participation of people in the decision-making process at the grassroots level. In India, the 73rd constitutional amendment of 1992 decentralised agriculture, irrigation and management of drinking water to the Panchayats. In West Bengal, the Panchayats were revitalised much before the constitutional amendment, soon after the Left Front government came to power. 

While the initial phase of Left Front rule saw enthusiastic participation by the village poor, when the water crisis reached a peak during the last years of Left Front rule, relatively few people in villages took part in government-sponsored initiatives. This leads to the core question: Why do more people not participate? Why are small cultivators and agricultural labourers, who are most profoundly affected by decisions regarding water management, even less inclined to be involved in decision-making?

Participation at the Crossroads discusses decentralised governance and the politics of water management in India, with specific focus on West Bengal. Through fieldwork in villages during the last years of Left Front rule in the state, the author highlights the little studied aspect of local participation in decision-making processes relating to allocation of water. Through his case studies, the author shows how the unavailability of water is causing small cultivators to turn away from agriculture; the reasons behind the low turnout of small cultivators and agricultural labourers at village meetings; and how political interference at various levels in decentralisation creates problems, often leading to a skewed access to water.

This timely and important book will be very useful to students and scholars of development studies, political science, public administration, anthropology, and sociology. It will also be invaluable to practitioners working in the fields of water policy and rural management.

Bhaskar Chakrabarti is Professor, Public Policy and Management Group, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, Kolkata.

Tables and Figures

Foreword by Graham Sansom


  1. Introduction
  2. The Study Area and Fieldwork Experience
  3. Panchayati Raj: Political Context and Local Control of Water
  4. Conflict within the Ruling Party for Control of Water
  5. Local Control of Water by the Opposition
  6. Water Conflict between the Ruling Party and the Opposition
  7. Conclusion


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