Managing Water, Securing Livelihoods 

13 July 2023

This policy brief, produced as part of Jal Kaushal, offers recommendations to nurture a frontline workforce that can enhance water management outcomes and cultivate livelihood security. It was produced through secondary and primary research conducted across 50 Gram Panchayats in five states.

From household use, agriculture, and food production, to aiding in electricity generation and nearly all industrial production, water underpins individual survival and the functioning of economies. The truism that water is life is accurate. Water is an economic good and a human right on which the right to life depends. In India, however, a burgeoning population, decades of unsustainable exploitation of resources, environmental degradation, and climate change have diminished water availability and quality. To alter the destructive path we are on, there is an urgent need to improve the management of the country’s water resources for the sake of its people and the economy.

It is with this motivation that JustJobs Network (JJN) and Arghyam launched Jal Kaushal, a project aimed at mapping the jobs-tasks-skills nexus of household and irrigation water management in India’s rural areas. Through secondary and primary research in 40 Gram Panchayats (GPs) across 10 districts in Karnataka, Bihar, Odisha, Meghalaya, and Maharashtra, the project found that:

  1. Water supply overshadows water management.
  2. Water-related policies, acts, missions, schemes, and programmes note the importance of frontline workers in water management but do not conceptualise these roles as productive jobs.
  3. Water management remains a technocratic subject, driven largely by technical experts hired at state- and district-levels.
  4. Frontline institutions such as the Water User Associations (WUAs) and GP-embedded Village Water and Sanitation Committees (VWSCs) exist but are largely non-functional.
  5. In places where water management interventions exist, there is a tendency to retrogress once the intervention’s duration ends.
  6. Traditional structures and practices are overlooked in favour of modern supply systems which causes loss of valuable knowledge and enhances dependency on state or civil society organisation-sponsored delivery systems and water management practices.
  7. Marginalised people, such as lowered caste communities, Adivasis, and women, are rarely invited to participate in committees that are responsible for managing water.
  8. Household water management and irrigation management are not integrated.

Addressing these concerns is an urgent necessity if India wants to cultivate water security while protecting livelihoods. To that end, this policy brief offers pointed recommendations for policy makers to nurture a frontline workforce that can strengthen water management initiatives.