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.

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