More on water infrastructure in India

This is a follow-up on the review of Govind Gopakumar‘s new book on water infrastructure in India named Transforming Urban Water Supply in India.

I am now convinced, after reading the first few chapters, that India is a near perfect setting to study water infrastructure as it matters for states (both federal and subnational) — in a post-colonial period, deep democratic roots were fashioned from a doctrine of subnational state autonomy and a federal polity; water, thus, becomes a state and federal issue, but states are mainly left to the task of organizating, implementing, and maintaining water supplies, cleanliness, etc. All this complexity withstanding, urban infrastructure reform is beset by relatively low levels of urbanization, neoliberal urban reform policies, and genearlized global pressures and opportunities.

Using a multi-method and multi-site approach, Gopakumar takes us to three metropolitan areas in three subnational states: the city of Bengaluru in Karnataka, the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, and the city of Kochi in Kerala. Each case is carefully selected for their differing response to reform, mainly, in the form of resistance or acquiescence, and the relative autonomy of the subnational state from the federalized state of India.

If that were not enough, the case of India is a great one for state theory, and Gopakumar covers a lot of this territory in his review of the literature. India is presented as both a strong and weak state; strong enough to keep boarders and avoid decay, but weak enough that it failed to promote massive economic and social development. Additionally, even as India began to fortify its infrastructure, social interests co-opted the state aparatus thus making it increasing an “embedded” state too soft to enforce regulation and became overly accomodating to its many and diverse state stake holders. In this way, India was overloaded by engaging in too many endeavors, without delegating enough of these responsibilities to local, subnational states. As Sinha (2005) argued, the developmental state suffers not just practically, but also conceptually, and Gopakumar (2012:18) suggests that we must transcend ‘inherited scholarly barriers and mental containers that have prevented disaggregation of the state in critical analysis”! The problem he identifies, echoing Sinha, is that the overarching theme of state action overwhelmingly adopt a state-as-an-actor metaphor, as either a benevolent state aiding in the development of the country or a malevolent state preying on its people and resources.

The role of states in infrastructure studies seems nearly unquestionable at this point in research.

1 thought on “More on water infrastructure in India

  1. It is my pleasure to write about this book. .I’m not sure that a hard distinction between those processes can be fully delineated … there is a lot about state theory and in state theory that implies the role of infrastructure and infrastructure is something that can tell us something about states too. That said, if I understand your point, you’re talking about issues of political economy "in general" rather than state theory in particular. .I guess, you are correct. Although I don’t think you’re implying that state theory is not in the general direction of political economy. Still, what specific theories of political economy do you think are most applicable? State theory is, in comparison to the general topic of political economy, specific enough to identify a de-limited set of approaches and scholars. . Now, to the extent that large infrastructure projects are often state run, or funneled though state-corporate partnerships, without a good theory of the state, conducting infrastructure research could be complicated, if not compromised. .As I look back at my original post, which I still stand by, I do think the closing lines were perhaps meant to be in the opposite order; meaning, infrastructure being a great case for state theory…


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