In India, a good part of the contemporary rise in agricultural production is due to groundwater irrigation. The green revolution was a borewell revolution. India today is the first global exporter of rice. Yet this achievement was not without social and environmental drawbacks. Food security for all Indian citizens is still a dream. And the very basis of agricultural growth, aquifers, are depleting rapidly. The example of groundwater in Chamrajnagar district, Karnataka, is a good illustration. Our collective research in the ATCHA project (https://www6.inra.fr/atcha) has proved that the depletion of aquifers is not directly due to any decline in rainfall, but is explained by the dramatic mushrooming of borewells (Robert et al., 2017). Individualistic use of water, without collective rules, has dried up many borewells, to the extent that some entire villages are coming back to rainfed agriculture. As in many other Indian regions, a spectacular process is taking place: the reversal of the centuries-old process of agricultural intensification.
Why has groundwater not been used with more caution by farmers? Is it due to the lack of education and information about aquifer evolution? Or due to the lack of long-term management, because of poverty for the lower classes, because of availability of other irrigable lands for the higher classes? While analyzing this “tragedy of the non-common” (Dardot, Laval, 2014, p.14; Ostrom, 1990), this paper shall try to explain why the “social construct” of a “common” aquifer did not take place, and what lessons should be drawn.
Paper co-authored with: Hélène Guétat-Bernard, French Institute of Pondicherry ; Julie Jacquet, University of Paris Nanterre, France ; Marlène Oger-Marengo, Toulouse University ; Audrey Richard-Ferroudji, independent expert ; Laurent Ruiz - INRA, IRD, Indo-French Cell of Water Science Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, India