Multilevel federalism, ecology and climate change in water policy: reflections from Groundwater Regulation of Uttar Pradesh, India, Venkatesh Dutta
Purpose: This paper contributes towards conceptual and theoretical framework for groundwater governance and regulation in Uttar Pradesh, which is India’s most populous state. It also looks at how the recently drafted Groundwater Act of 2019 incorporates multi-level federalism, ecology, and climate change into the regulatory provisions. An attempt has been made to integrate ecological and climate risks in developing ‘water security plans’, starting from the Gram Panchayat (village council) to the district levels through local-self-governance system.
Design/methodology/approach: The sectoral barriers in water policy regulations are evaluated using the concept of vertical, horizontal and temporal policy coherence which critically depends on synergistic integration and transformation of other sectors. Three scales of social organizations are employed to evaluate conflicts between policies, policy-priorities and conceptual uncertainty. For developing future climate scenarios in Uttar Pradesh, the IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathway 6 (RCP6) trajectory for predicted greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations is utilized.
Findings: The paper argues that ecosystem priorities, as principally reflected in ‘groundwater security plan’ and ‘self-regulation’, are progressively difficult to implement not only due to their biophysical complexity but also due to short-termism of political scale having functional uncertainty that arise from existing multiple, overlapping authority and institutions. There would be increase in over-exploited blocks in the State with sprawl of vast areas as potential groundwater scarce zones. Many observation wells will witness a significant declining trend by 2050.
Originality: A system of ‘self-regulation’ and ‘groundwater quality sensitive areas’ has been introduced to check resource exploitation and pollution. For the first time, multilevel governance has been crafted in the groundwater regulation with various levels of decentralized power structures and schemes of power sharing. Other important shifts are the introduction of the water security plan, setting up extraction limit, registration of all the users and drilling agencies, the requirement for ‘self-regulation’, and the incorporation of recharge and environmental quality standards.
Research limitations/implications: The implementation aspects of various policy strategies are yet to be tested, and it is observed that conflicts between policies, policy-priorities and conceptual ambiguity in the demarcation of single or multiple aquifer-based common pool resources along with institutional inertia could limit the success of the policy outcomes. Policy success critically hinges on overcoming sectorial barriers in water-energy nexus (energy as an instrument to regulate groundwater use patterns), institutional reform, participatory groundwater management and fixing excessive extraction limits.
Practical implications: The regulatory provisions are classic examples of both policy success and policy failures, which could be applied elsewhere, in other parts of the world. Recognition of an ‘ecosystem’ view with ‘aquifer-based’ approach in developing groundwater governance framework is recommended as the keystone of reforms in groundwater management in the state.
Social implications: Adaptive self-regulation requires monitoring the community response to a particular policy goal for a long period of time, and make suitable incremental adjustments against anomalies. There are various trade-offs that are motivated by the cross-scale interactions between various scales of the government and the communities.
Keywords: Adaptive Capacity, Eco-hydrological Resilience, Basin Governance, Climate Change.