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Seminar recordings

Conversations in Political Ecology Seminar: Feminist Political Ecology

In this seminar, run by Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University, the speakers draw on their respective academic and advocacy experiences to reflect on how a Feminist Political Ecology lens furthers understanding of people-environment relations. In conversation they address both the potential and the challenges of applying a feminist political ecology approach to promoting progressive change. 

Led by Frances Cleaver and John Childs at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University

Speakers: Seema Kulkarni (SOPPECOM) and Margreet Zwarteveen (IHE-Delft)

Reimagining Groundwater Governance (gwG) with a special emphasis on India

Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM) organised a series of international webinars on Groundwater Governance (gwG) on 20th, 27th July, 3rd August 2021 and 10th August 2021 to collectively reimagine groundwater governance while situating it in current and emergent discourses.

Webinar 1- Groundwater governance: arrival at the current paradigm

The discussions in the first webinar under the theme, ‘Groundwater governance: arrival at the current paradigm’, focussed on the current paradigm of groundwater governance, including the long history of groundwater use through millennia as well as the specifics of the history over the last hundred years or so. While discussing the global call for a shift from management to governance, we were posed with a pertinent question of identifying the possibility of the existing dichotomy between groundwater management and groundwater governance. It was apparent that there exists a contrast in the ways practitioners and policy makers perceive the concept of groundwater management and governance. The practitioner’s view, largely through experiences in India, involves (decentralised) groundwater governance as the last mile in a comprehensive process of groundwater management. On the other hand, policy makers and researchers articulate an ‘umbrella’ view of groundwater governance, wherein groundwater management is a part of the larger context of groundwater governance. Further, to govern this complex resource, the need to inform-educate-communicate stakeholders was stressed time and again, especially by incorporating certain values of democracy within the groundwater governance paradigm. There was a collective agreement on the fact that understanding gwG is integral to the process of broadening our understanding of the governance of the commons. However, it was also pointed out that gwG faces challenges of disciplinary barriers, making the integrated science of aquifer behaviour and people’s behaviour pertinent. It was highlighted that important and difficult changes are possible only with the support of the local community, especially farmers. The concept of ‘grounded’ groundwater governance was repeatedly stressed.

Webinar 2- Understanding groundwater governance through transdisciplinary science

With those learnings, we moved onto the second webinar of the series with the theme – ‘Understanding groundwater governance through transdisciplinary science’ keeping cognizance of embracing a multi-pronged approach to address something as complex as groundwater resources. The sessions drew our attention to the issues of aquifer diversity coupled with social diversity that exists in many regions of the world, especially India. The concept of a groundwater typology can be used to develop an improved understanding of aquifer system diversity superimposed with various patterns of groundwater usage. The need to identify and acknowledge these aquifer and social diversities was stressed. Further, it must also be recognised that a top-down approach in gwG is highly rigid and often limits the responses to various problems. Moreover, repercussions of linear approaches to managing water resources at the basin/village-scale were highlighted while emphasising the need to understand the interplay between surface and groundwater resources at local and regional scales. Another important aspect of gwG that needs more attention is the highly undervalued issue of water quality. The lack of a sense of urgency concerning water quality and associated public health issues necessitates inclusion of groundwater quality as part of the larger groundwater governance discourse in India. It was also pointed out that the disciplines of groundwater science and planetary health need to come together to address the public health problems arising out of water quality problems. Moreover, demystification of science for the local community and their capacity building is essential because – ‘if they don’t know, how will they govern’. Finally, we must all be cognizant that ‘we have never lived with the aquifers, only on them’ and perhaps that’s where we need to make amends.

Webinar 3 - Making groundwater governance inclusive: embedding key narratives

The third webinar of the series discussed the topic of ‘Making groundwater governance inclusive: embedding key narratives’, laying emphasis on understanding how the aspects of equity, fairness, and justice can be integrated into the thinking on groundwater governance? The most common factor was that of inclusiveness in gwG, with specific emphasis on the often-overlooked aspect of intersectionality. Caste, gender, and patriarchy are still not a part of the current water governance paradigm and while there is a need to address the macro issues here, there’s a much bigger need to work on the micro realities that aggravate these macro issues. Therefore, for gwG to be inclusive, we must let go of the command-and-control attitude and embrace an approach of caring and sharing. Another interesting insight was to adopt the water-energy-food nexus as a groundwater governance tool and use the groundwater development history as an energy transition tool in India. There was also an emphasis on moving from ‘engineering to ingenuity’, while talking about groundwater and ecosystem governance. The issue of climate change and its impacts was much discussed where it was stated that gwG is critical for climate-resilient agriculture in the future. Equity and climate justice must form the critical components of the climate change discourse. While bringing in the dimension of conflicts in the discourse of gwG, it was pointed out that competition and conflicts concerning groundwater remain under-explored and under-valued areas. A plea to democratise our water governance ‘nothing about us, without us’ for the inclusion in groundwater governance was brought to the fore, stressing the fact that diversity brings new questions to the table and enables the reproduction of knowledge. Along with that, it was pointed out that the current discourse around gwG is laden with ideas of developmental governance rather than addressing the pertinent issue of larger environmental governance. Further, while discussing solar energy as a tool for gwG it was pointed out that this approach could lead to dual equity issues where it has the potential to either bring in or disintegrate equity, given the interplay of a complex regime defined by groundwater, energy, and agriculture. It is important to note that amongst the discussions around inclusion in gwG paradigm, contexts are often excluded from the mainstream, e.g. springs and spring-water management remained an area that was hardly discussed during the three days, especially during the 3rd webinar. So, exclusion of certain topics like spring-water further highlights aspects such as intersectionality and inclusion.

Webinar 4 - Groundwater governance: Is there an alternative paradigm for the future

The concluding webinar of the series hosted discussions on the topic of ‘Groundwater governance: Is there an alternative paradigm for the future’ where the speakers and panellists highlighted the key issues that are essential to be included while envisioning an alternative paradigm of groundwater governance for the future. The discussion began with a discussion on Underground Transfer of Floods for Irrigation (UTFI), a form of MAR which entails capturing the water upstream in a flood-prone region and use it to replenish aquifers that lay underneath, to avoid flooding in the downstream. It was further highlighted that this kind of an effort requires a strong scientific case along with the acceptance and readiness of the community along with a multi-stake holder engagement at the village, district, state, and national level. Further, it was argued that there is a need to pluralize voices and knowledges in groundwater governance. It was emphasized that global groundwater initiatives have been predominantly based on universal diagnoses, where gwG has been resource-oriented displaying a legacy of natural sciences/engineering approaches. Doing and knowing groundwater differently – showing that the conventional knowledges of groundwater are colonial and not universal instead they are local and situated, replacing universe with pluriverse, engaging in scientific-political processes to imagine a new groundwater society remains crucial. Moreover, it was argued that gwG policies must be informed by the essential features of the groundwater. Without reformed policies on biophysical, users, support structures, research, teaching, law, data generation, and energy aspects that are surrounding groundwater, a paradigm shift in gwG remains impossible. It was reiterated that scientific research, policy and regulation, and communities need to come together to bring action on the ground. Amongst these discussions, it was pointed out that well and bore well diggers have not been a part of the problematisation and solutions of groundwater issues despite being closely associated with the resource. Similarly, farmers are seen as stakeholders and not as knowledge givers in the policies or discussions surrounding gwG. It was yet again highlighted that some issues find very little mention in the dialogue like urban groundwater despite the increasing sources in these areas. The issue of universal frameworks in managing groundwater was emphasized again while linking them to the issue of land rights where land rights remain the handle for accessing groundwater regardless of the problems of inequality in access to land and landlessness. The sessions emphasized that groundwater has had historical, social, personal, ecological, climatic, cultural, scientific, technological aspects associated to it and yet it has been addressed by a linear, conventional approach. The webinars concluded with a shared understanding that reimagining groundwater governance is a multifaceted task, and it is imperative that the issues in the current approach to gwG must be acknowledged and addressed to envision an alternative paradigm for the future.


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Engaging and learning with water infrastructure: Rufaro irrigation scheme, Zimbabwe. Chitata, T., Kemerink-Seyoum, J., Cleaver, F. Water Alternatives 14(3): 690-716  

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Distilling pedagogies of critical water studies. Sabati, S., Beckett, L., Cragun-Rehders, K., Najera, A., Hise, K., Geiger, A. (2021). Teaching in Higher Education. DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2021.1962273


Transformations to groundwater sustainability: from individuals and pumps to communities and aquifers. Zwarteveen, M., Kuper, M., Olmos-Herrera, C.,  Dajani, M., Kemerink-Seyoum, J., Cleaver, F., Beckett, L., Lu, F., Kulkarni, S., Kulkarni, H., Aslekar, U., Börjeson, L., Verzijl, A., Dominguez Guzmán, C., Oré, M., Leonardelli, I., Bossenbroek, L., Ftouhi, H., Chitata, T., Hartani, T., Saidani, A., Johnson, M., Peterson, A., Bhat, S., Bhopal, S., Kadiri, Z., Deshmukh, R., Joshi, D., Komakech, H., Joseph, K., Mlimbila, E., De Bont, C. (2021). Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, (49), 88–97. 

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Unlocking the crisis: Understanding impacts of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown on single women farmers of Maharashtra. Report prepared by Seema Kulkarni, Pallavi Harshe, Swati Satpute, Sneha Bhat Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM), Pune

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Big words, small farmers: exploring academic overflows and ‘surplus water’ in Motupe, Peru

Domínguez Guzmán, C. (2019). Grandes narrativas, pequeños agricultores:. Estudios Atacameños (En línea), (63), 365-381.

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Modern temples and sacred spaces: Entangled hydrosocial territories in Cuchoquesra, Peru

Verzijl, A., Boelens, R., & Núñez, O. (2019). Templos modernos y espacios sagrados:. Estudios Atacameños (En línea), (63), 251-274.

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