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Updated: October 20, 2009 12:05 IST

Water law and resource management in India

R. MARIA SALETH
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It covers a vast range of water-related issues with legal ramifications not only in the context of large dams and irrigation canals but in the groundwater and tank irrigation settings as well.

With the institutional and governance issues getting greater importance in the policy discourse in recent years, the relevance of legal aspects, which are an integral part of the governance system, is also increasing in many fields. Understandably, one of these fields relates to water — a resource the scarcity or mismanagement of which could be a major constraint for food security and economic development.

What are the legal dimensions of water resource management? How law can provide solutions to water-related conflicts and allocations issues? Are the existing legal systems capable of addressing these challenges? What changes are needed in the legal system? What are the prospects for water law reform now and in the foreseeable future? This book seeks to address these and related questions from a theoretical as well as a practical perspective.

As many as 25 eminent scholars with a lot of research and administrative experience to their credit have contributed to this volume. It testifies to the scholarship and practical insights of the authors as well as the editor. The chapters are arranged in seven parts, each part dealing with different dimensions of the nexus between water and law. They are well sequenced, ensuring a logical flow of the themes discussed.

Notably, the book provides an index that lists the important water-related statutes operating both at the Central and State levels. The subject-indexing system is excellent and it should enable the reader to pursue with ease the subject or theme of his interest.

Range of issues

The book covers a vast range of water-related issues with legal ramifications not only in the context of large dams and irrigation canals but in the groundwater and tank irrigation settings as well. Issues at both macro and micro levels are dealt with. For instance, some of the chapters discuss the legal issues affecting Centre-State relations in the matter of water resource development, allocation, and management.

Some others dwell upon jurisprudential issues in the specific context of water rights and entitlements as well as in the general context of water institution and governance. Conceptual issues involved in the fundamental question of rights vs. duties are also covered in one of the chapters.

In two different chapters, the legal issues involved in one of the least-studied areas, namely floods, and in one of the most-studied areas, namely water pollution, are discussed at length. Sensitive aspects of water resource development, such as environmental impact, population displacement, and resettlement, are analysed in quite a few chapters.

Although the general focus of the book is on water issues from a national perspective, the final chapter highlights the international dimensions of water law, especially in the context of trans-boundary river basins.

Meticulous

Overall, it is a well-conceived and well-written volume, for which both the editor and the contributorsdeserve full appreciation. Their painstaking effort and the thoroughness of their work are remarkable.

What is unique about the book is that it does not deal with water law per se but with water law as it relates to various physical, economic, institutional, and policy aspects affecting water resource management in India. In short, this is not a book on water law but a book on the implications of water law for water resource management in India. Despite the legalistic nature of the subject, the language used in most of the chapters is easy to follow even by the lay people.

Undoubtedly a major addition to existing literature, the book fills a gap in one of the less-researched areas of water resource management. It will be useful to students of water resource management and connected areas. It should serve as a valuable source for senior researchers working in the water-law interface. I am happy to commend the book to everyone, academic and non-academic, interested in the study of water and its sustainable management.

WATER AND THE LAWS IN INDIA: Edited by Ramaswamy R. Iyer; Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., B1/I-1, Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road, New Delhi-110044. Rs. 995.

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