Institutional research in peri-urban Ganges Delta: Stories from the field

As part of the Shifting Grounds project, researchers have visited peri-urban villages in Khulna and Kolkata since 2014. These field visits focus on the institutional context of specific local issues relating to groundwater. It involved extensive interviews, focus group discussions, and workshops with local stakeholders from the community, civil society groups, and government departments. Last year, in November 2016, Shifting Grounds team member Sharlene Gomes from Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands) visited peri-urban villages in North and South 24 Parganas near Kolkata city, India. A visit to Bhotiagata upazilla near Khulna city, Bangladesh followed in February 2017.

Peri-urban Khulna

The main issue investigated during this field visit was local access to drinking water. The peri-urban village of Hogladanga is part of rural jurisdiction, and thus managed according to the rules and institutions for rural areas. Over time, with urbanization, these institutions are expected to change as peri-urban areas become absorbed by urban jurisdictions, in this case, Khulna City.

The challenge in Hogladanga relates to insufficient access to clean drinking water. Officially, a WATSAN (Water and Sanitation) committee allocates licenses for installation of deep tube wells. However, the current public wells are not sufficient to meet village households’ water needs, and households make up for this by installing private wells or, for those unable to afford a private well, use informal rules to share the existing tube wells. Households, rely on groundwater primarily for drinking water, as canal water is of poor quality and rainwater is a seasonal source and considered unsafe if not properly filtered. In the future, these peri-urban areas may receive access to piped water supply from Khulna city’s drinking water provider. However, the condition of the existing piped infrastructures and limited network coverage currently requires urban households to rely on public or private tube wells or in some cases, bottled water for drinking purposes.

During previous visits to the Khulna area city and villages, data were collected on the formal and informal institutions responsible for these drinking water realities. The 2017 visit focused on examining how stakeholders behave in response to institutions and the resulting costs and benefits from the outcomes of these actor interactions. Eventually, our goal is to develop game theory models of stakeholder behavior that can be used as part of on-going capacity building activities.


Left to right: Drinking water filter in urban household; On-going construction of piped water connections in Khulna city; Public tube well in peri-urban village

Peri-urban Kolkata

Similar to the issues faced in peri-urban Khulna, Tihuria village in peri-urban Kolkata is in need of better drinking water supply. In this case, however, the issue relates to the coverage and quality of water infrastructure either via piped supply or tube wells. In parts of the village without drinking water access, households rely on bottled water supply of unknown water quality. Our field visits investigated the institutions behind this issue and discovered a shift in government policy from groundwater to surface water projects as well as handover of infrastructure to local governments for management. However, the issues stem from quality of piped infrastructure and local government capacity to manage existing groundwater infrastructure. Similarly, regulations concerning bottling industries and capacity to enforce these regulations are also creating issues in a mushrooming local market for bottled water.


Clockwise from top: Local distributor of packaged water, Non-functional deep tube well, Household water collection

In another peri-urban village, tensions exist between local farmers and industries (especially dyeing industries) due to the competition for groundwater use and the subsequent release of industrial effluents back into the environment. These industries utilize large quantities of groundwater for their manufacturing processes and while some industries have invested in effluent treatment plant, others’ effluent release has resulted in contamination of local water bodies and disruption of nearby farming activities. Here, institutional challenges are due to a fragmented regulatory system for water pollution in West Bengal and also, powerful industrial associations operating at the local level.


Clockwise from top: Effluent pollution; Water quality from dyeing factory with effluent treatment plant; Farmland affected by nearby factory (background)

Field research into these existing peri-urban issues is expected to generate inputs for the on-going Negotiated Approach activities on the institutional complexity of the problem and potential opportunities for negotiating alternate institutional arrangements to improve the situation.

Stressed aquifers and water scarcity in peri urban Hogladanga village

Hogladanga village is located in the urban fringe or peri-urban areas of Khulna city around eight kilometersfrom the citycentre. It is a village of JalmaUnion under Batiaghata Upazila. According to the 2011 Census report of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), 237 households live in this village.Migrating people are settling inthevillage, attracted by the nearby urban centre. Agriculture is the main occupation, with mostly tenant farmers who share their crops with landlords and water vendors. IRRI rice is the main crop in Hogladanga village. Activities in the aman (rainy months) season are shifting to white fish aquaculture instead of paddy because of low profit from rice.

Both surface and groundwater are the sources of water. Groundwater from deep tube-wells is mainly being used for drinking and household purposes, but also being used for irrigation to a limited extent.Use of shallow groundwater sources is limited due to salinity problems. A massive canal once flowed through the village but now it is almost dried out. Land encroachment is predominant here which is leading to the death of the canals and water bodies. Major water related issues in this area include scarcity of safe drinking water due to shortage of deep tube well, salinity intrusion in ground water,excessive iron and chloride contamination in drinking water, water logging and drainage congestion, siltation/sedimentation in canals, canal encroachment and improper management of sluice gates to maintain systematic water flows to the river and from the river.Map_HV

Water quality of shallow tube wellless than 400 feet depth is not good. Presence of salinity and iron in shallow tubewellwater depth should be 1000 ft. to 1200 ft to get good quality water. People of the village have limited opportunities to avail deep tube-well water for drinking and domestic purposes, as there are only four of such tubewells in the village. Thus, many need to travel a long way to fetch water. To avoid long travel,people collect water for drinking and domestic uses from nearby shallow tube wells. Mostly women and girls collect water from the tube-wells.In addition thatdeclining of groundwater table make it difficult to get enough water from tube-wells in dry months. The Department of Public Health Engineering is the government department responsible for distribution of tube wells for drinking water and domestic uses. However, the villagers do not get necessary number of tubewells for the village. The villagers need to deposit BDT 6000 to the upazillaparisad to get a tube-well but in most cases they get their money back due to the shortage of quota for the village. The government allocation of tube-wells could not meet the demand of water in Hogladanga village. Currently more than two hundred families depend on just six deep tube wells.

[ATM Zakir Hossain, KaziFaisal Islam, JJS, Bangladesh]