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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

Revisiting Wittfogel: “Hydraulic society” in colonial India and its post-colonial legacies in hydropower management

P. 123-140.

The chapter aims to apply Karl Wittfogel’s concept of “hydraulic society” as a heuristic device to colonial India water management scenario and understand its post-colonial legacies. The British colonial intervention in the domain of water endeavored to establish something akin to “hydraulic society,” on a pan-Indian scale. In colonial India, water control and irrigation played an important role, if not the central role in state-building. The centralisation of water happened somewhat inadvertently, as the reconstruction of the hydraulic landscape was largely disaster-induced. The British wanted to control the recurrent floods and famines that affected the Indian landscape. Later in the first quarter of the 20th-century power generation became a lucrative business and during the Second World War, hydropower dams were constructed for the production of electricity. These legacies of water management institutions, discourses and practices continued in post-colonial India, as cash crop-based agriculture and green revolution further put an impetus in the same direction. It ultimately led to a saturation point when problems and conflicts started emerging.