Taming the Anarchy

Jan 30, 2009 | RFF Staff

A New RFF Press Book by Tushaar Shah

In 1947, British India – the part of South Asia that is today’s India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh – emerged from the colonial era with the world’s largest centrally managed canal irrigation infrastructure. However, as vividly illustrated by Tushaar Shah, the orderly irrigation economy that saved millions of rural poor from droughts and famines is now a vast atomistic system of widely dispersed tube-wells that are drawing groundwater without permits or hindrances. Taming the Anarchy is about the development of this chaos and the prospects to bring it under control. It is about both the massive benefit that the irrigation economy has created and the ill-fare it threatens through depleted aquifers and pollution.  

Tushaar Shah brings exceptional insight to a socio-ecological phenomenon that has befuddled scientists and policymakers alike. In systematic fashion, he investigates the forces behind the transformation of South Asian irrigation and considers its social, economic, and ecological impacts. He considers what is unique to South Asia and what is in common with other developing regions. He argues that, without effective governance, the resulting groundwater stress threatens the sustenance of the agrarian system and therefore the well being of the nearly one-and-a-half billion people who live in South Asia. Yet, finding solutions is a formidable challenge. The way forward in the short run, Shah suggests, lies in strategies that change the conduct of water users.

For more information or to purchase  Taming the Anarchy: Groundwater Governance in South Asia, click here

From antiquity until the 1960’s, agricultural water management in South Asia was predominantly the affair of village communities and/or the state. Today, the region depends on irrigation from some 25 million individually owned groundwater wells. Tushaar Shah provides a fascinating economic, political, and cultural history of the development and use of technology that is also a history of a society in transition. His book provides powerful ideas and lessons for researchers, historians, and policymakers interested in South Asia, as well as readers who are interested in the water and agricultural futures of other developing countries and regions, including China and Africa.

This volume is copublished with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

"Likely to have a significant impact, both on decision making and future research in the region. The book is the best assessment and analysis of irrigated agriculture in South Asia that exists…South Asia can be seen as a proving ground for the groundwater boom and bust cycles that will inevitably play themselves out in other regions."

--Christopher Scott, University of Arizona

“Very likely to be a book that will significantly shape the debate on India’s irrigation economy, particularly the groundwater economy. The book will push many people to think ‘outside of their box.’”

--Peter P. Mollinga, University of Bonn