The Water Institute is pleased to host Dr. Trevor Birkenholtz, Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a Brown Bag Seminar. He will be speaking on Surplus and Security: An Analysis of India’s National River-Linking Project.
India’s National River-Linking Project (NRLP) aims to connect India’s rivers via a series of dams, link-canals and reservoirs that would move water from so-called surplus areas to deficit areas to enhance water and food security. In doing so, this $186 billion Promethean project intends to improve water availability in scarce regions, increase irrigated area, provide flood control and produce hydroelectricity. In this talk, I analyze the history of the project to make three interrelated arguments: First, the entire discourse of the project rests of a myopic vision of water scarcity as a physical problem, rather than water scarcity as something that is also socially produced in complex ways through power-laden political economies. Second, this naturalization of scarcity as a physical problem, feeds into the state’s techno-managerial tendencies towards mega-projects, while justifying them as the only possible solution to attain water security. And third, the notion of water scarcity, constructed as a physical problem, allows for the state to project a particular notion of surplus and security that that renders invisible “Project Affected People”, including tribal communities, landless farmers, laborers and the urban poor. The talk concludes with a discussion of what this project means for India’s complex riverine socioecologies and the struggles around access to and control over them.
About the Speaker
Dr. Birkenholtz is a cultural and political ecologist, and development geographer. His work attempts to link the political economy of access to and control over environmental resources, and ecological change (political ecology), to issues of technology, knowledge, and social power, more typical of research in science and technology studies (STS). To date, he has advanced these concerns by investigating the transformation of groundwater-based irrigation, and urban and rural water supplies in South Asia. He also serves as Environment and Society Section Editor for the journal Geography Compass.