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From “Kere” to Tank: Changing perceptions of water as an urban commons

Anushri Narayan Visweswaran1, Hita Unnikrishnan1,2, and Harini Nagendra1
1 Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India
2 Urban Institute, The University of Sheffield, United Kingdom


Resource conservation and management is often informed by perceptions surrounding it. In this paper, with the lakes of Bangalore as our case study, we explore changing perceptions surrounding urban water commons in the pre-colonial and colonial eras. We further attempt to build the driving narratives behind different regimes governing such commons and their implications for equity and sustainability.

This study uses archival sources covering a time span between 6th Century CE (precolonial) to 1947(end of colonialism). We recorded mentions of lakes within Bangalore City in historical documents like inscriptions, archival files, monthly governance proceedings and colonial policy instruments. We further analysed for direct and indirect narratives of perception around these water bodies. Using this information, we then constructed the larger narrative of change and its implications for urban commons governance in the global south.

We found that water resources were perceived as community managed and coproduced in pre-colonial times and state or privately owned in colonial times. The following changes in perception emerged: 1. Water as purifying vs. being purified, 2. Water-bodies as works of merit vs. public works, 3. Water-bodies as being useful vs. dangerous 4. Water and associated landscapes as a gift vs as government property, and 5. Water and associated commons enabling landscapes vs notions of taming urban water. These conflicting perceptions correspond with changes in resource management regimes, following shifts into centralization and decreased public ownership of resources. Each narrative has also influenced equitable access to resources from urban commons in diverse ways.

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