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Water, climate, and economy in India from 1880 to the present

Roy, Tirthankar (2021) Water, climate, and economy in India from 1880 to the present. Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 51 (4). 565 - 594. ISSN 0022-1953

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Identification Number: 10.1162/jinh_a_01628


Theories of economic growth based on Western Europe are inadequate when applied to India because the two areas are incommensurate in their geographies and their resources. Because its initial conditions were different from those in, say, Europe and North America, India could arrive at economic growth only by solving different problems—preeminent among them being reliable access to clean water. The actions taken by the state, scientists, and society since 1880 in India weakened the chains that linked water insecurity, low yield, mass mortality, and caste-biased mortality but at the inevitable cost of ecological stress. In a tropical-monsoon climate, where well-being and the environment were constantly in flux, asking deprived individuals to consume less or cooperate more was not necessarily the best response to water problems. Science and capitalism provided better solutions. This article explores the interaction between water, environmental change, and economic change in India since the end of the nineteenth century. A struggle to mitigate poverty and inequality in access to water, a condition that the tropical-monsoon climate made almost universal, delivered economic growth and demographic transition in colonial India (1858–1947) and postcolonial India. At the same time, ensuring the fair distribution of a vital resource like water led to its overexploitation. The “tragedy of the commons” notion that Hardin advanced is not an accurate representation of this syndrome (see below).1

Item Type: Article
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Additional Information: © 2021 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Inc.
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
D History General and Old World > DS Asia
JEL classification: N - Economic History > N5 - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment, and Extractive Industries > N55 - Asia including Middle East
Date Deposited: 17 Mar 2021 17:54
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 02:58

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