Working Paper

IDS working papers;54

Water, Difference and Power: Kutch and the Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) Project

Published on 1 January 1997

This report examines the relationship between the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), a controversial dam under construction in western India, and Kutch, which is supposed to benefit from the dam.

It highlights that contrary to decades of promise, Kutch does not stand to benefit significantly from the project and shows how the state has “manufactured” the dominant view that there is no alternative to this project for Kutch. This has two consequences: one, locally appropriate alternatives are not adequately explored; two, crucial aspects concerning social difference are obscured.

The case study gives a picture of the social, caste and power dynamics in a village supposed to benefit from the project and shows how these are intrinsically tied to the water question. The analysis of the arrangements governing land and water use indicates that access to and control over water resources was always differentiated and this differentiation is likely to increase with the advent of canal irrigation. Hence, notions of the “user” and “community” need to be de-homogenised to accommodate variations arising due to historical legacies, class, caste, gender and occupation.

The study argues that both macro and micro-level water interventions are blind to questions concerning social difference. In doing so water schemes build on or reinforce already skewed social and power relations. It contends that unless social difference is taken seriously, even ecologically sustainable options such as watershed development may end up being “old wine in new bottles.” In order for issues such as equity and social justice to be addressed in water interventions, the study argues for the need on the part of implementing agencies to be aggressively partisan in targeting the marginalised and socially excluded groups.


Lyla Mehta

Professorial Fellow

Publication details

published by
Mehta, Lyla
IDS Working Paper, issue 54
1 85864 120 9


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