Hydrological politics in megacity
: Rethinking water governance in Delhi

  • Chandra Bhushan Kumar

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis is about the juxtaposition of two dominant themes of today’s world – megaurbanization and water management. It sets out to investigate the contemporary water management conditions in a South megacity. In this investigation, the hydraulics serve two purposes: one, as a frame to apprehend various processes that created (and are creating) myriad relationships in this gigantic urban space; and two, as an object of inquiry reveals the genealogy of the ideas or institutions that has led to the spatiotemporal arrangements of the domestic water supply in the megacity.
Drawing insights from various analytical perspectives including hydrosocial, urban political ecology, subaltern urbanism, governmentality, postcolonialism, and modernity, the thesis surveys the process of mega-urbanization that shaped the form and design of institutional frameworks, laden with singular and modernist vision of water, and holds this vision and its apparatus – state monopoly and segregation- as key producers of multi-layered and diverse risks in water management for the households, the megacity, and the region. Using results from extensive fieldwork in Delhi, the thesis proposes an alternative view to analyse the contemporary concerns and to suggest possible pathways in megacity water management.
Rapid emergence of megacities in global South and related concerns of water supply in these places have been investigated, to a large extent, from binary perspectives of planned/slum; formal/informal; economic good/social good; and efficiency/equity. Taking Linton’s (2010) phrase ‘from waters to water’ as a starting point, the thesis travels back into history to witness the hesitant and incomplete transformation of ‘multiple waters’ into ‘singular and modernist water’ in the megacity. It helps first in dismantling the myth of binary understanding of the megacity; second, in unearthing the fundamental barriers embedded in the contemporary technoinstitutional regime of the megacity hydraulics; third, in reconstructing the cultural landscapes of water in the megacity, which are gradually marginalized and lost in the dominant discourse on demand and supply of water; and fourth, in indicating the presence of spatio-temporality of risks of different orders in the megacity.
Next, using empirical results from more than five thousand households in 32 locations within Delhi, the thesis demonstrates the presence of first order risks concerning accessibility, adequacy, quality, affordability, acceptability, seasonal, and source depletion. The management of these risks and the methods of this management, the thesis argues, produce second order risks which are mostly invisible, distant in time and space, uncertain, and politically unattractive. Putting household in focus, the thesis follows a familiar trajectory of measurement of coping strategy; but then it indicates departure by making household as a crucible of ideology and risk management strategies in water management. This innovative approach helps in reconstructing the ideological premise and its workable instruments for the megacity water management, that are as diverse, flexible, dynamic, inclusive, and holistic as a megacity.
From knowledge perspective, the thesis contributes the following: first, the binary understanding of a south megacity is a myth and needs to be dismantled as it promotes a singular and modernist vision of water ignoring the local geo-cultural conditions and practices; second, the contemporary megacity water management faces different orders of risks, and its focus on first order risks often remains (or choose to) ignorant of second order risks; third, the household is not only a place to assess the risks and to advance the arguments of willingness to pay, but it is also a significant functional institution to offer ideas and workable solutions, which are local, indigenous, just, and sustainable
Date of Award08 Feb 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorMark Whitehead (Supervisor) & John Grattan (Supervisor)

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