Laying Bare

Determinants of Informal Water Vendors for Domestic Water Supply in Himalayan Mountain Towns

  • Rinan Shah Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment; Manipal Academy of Higher Education
Keywords: domestic water scarcity;, informality, marginality, urban mountain towns, Eastern Himalayan Region


Darjeeling lies in the Eastern Himalayan Region, one of the highest rainfall receiving regions in India. But, the communities have been facing water scarcity for decades perpetuating extreme inequalities in the form of water injustice; realities of these everyday sources of harassment and crisis are obscured within ‘larger political questions.’ The Darjeeling Himalaya has historically been a site of multiple political disruptions over the demands of creating Gorkhaland, a separate State from the State of West Bengal, within India. In this paper, I examine the informal nature of water supply as an outcome of insufficient developmental processes and malgovernance furthered by the marginal condition of the region. The extensive presence of informal systems and their intertwining with the formal, the pseudo-municipality systems, and the over-dependence on community organizations spell out the inability or unwillingness of the state towards alleviating the water scarcity. This also highlights the ingenuity of the local suppliers and communities as the chance taken by for profit or as forms of survival. Among households, everyday marginalization is visible through activities of water acquisition from a plethora of water suppliers and disconnections from the state supplies due to legality of residence and being, and social and spatial differentiation—both underpinned by their social and political status. With the Darjeeling Municipality being my ‘site’ of study, I lay bare its waterscapes to highlight the determinants of informal water vendors. Adding to existing rich literature on the region, this paper explores marginalization foregrounding issues of everyday practices of malgovernance, corruption, and red-tapism that defines the political spaces of the Hills.  In doing so, it is my purpose to argue that economic, underdevelopment, and governance are not separate from but are an integral part of the ‘identity crisis’ that defines the socio-political and historical realities of the Darjeeling Hills.

How to Cite
Shah, R. (2022). Laying Bare. HIMALAYA - The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 41(1), 74-90.
Research Articles