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The politics of negotiation and implementation: a reciprocal water access agreement in the Himalayan foothills, India

Eszter K. Kovacs, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK
Chetan Kumar, Global Forest and Climate Change Program, IUCN, Washington, D.C., USA
Chetan Agarwal, Center for Ecology Development and Research, India
William M. Adams, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK
Robert A. Hope, School of Geography and Environment and Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, UK
Bhaskar Vira, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK; University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute (UCCRI)


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In this paper, we examine the on-the-ground realities of upstream-downstream negotiations and transactions over ecosystem services. We explore the engagement, negotiation, implementation, and postimplementation phases of a “reciprocal water access” (RWA) agreement between village communities and municipal water users at Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, India. We aim to highlight how external actors drove the payments for ecosystem services agenda through a series of facilitation and research engagements, which were pivotal to the RWA’s adoption, and how the agreement fared once external agents withdrew. In the postimplementation period, the RWA agreement continues to be upheld by upstream communities amidst evolving, competing land-use changes and claims. The introduction of cash payments for environmental services for forest-water relationships has given rise to multifaceted difficulties for the upstream hamlets, which has impeded the functionality of their forest management committee. Upstream communities’ formal rights and abilities to control and manage their resources are dynamic and need strengthening and assurance; these developments result in fluctuating transaction and opportunity costs not originally envisaged by the RWA agreement. The paper demonstrates the importance of an explicit understanding of the local politics of negotiation and implementation to determine the effectiveness of compensation-based mechanisms for the supply of ecosystem services.

Key words

India; negotiations; payments for ecosystem services; water management

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087