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Negotiating precarity: governance and agency in hydropower development in the Eastern Himalayan margins of India

Lama, R. A. (2021) Negotiating precarity: governance and agency in hydropower development in the Eastern Himalayan margins of India. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00099017


This thesis is a detailed qualitative enquiry into the context, agency, and nested power dynamics shaping local responses of support to hydropower projects along the Teesta River in Darjeeling in the Eastern Himalayan region of India. Since 2003, large-scale hydropower development promoted by central and state governments in the Eastern Himalayas, and their controversial governance, have invited severe critique. Academic debates around local conflict, and grassroots resistance, negotiation, and contestation to hydropower have been centred on the use of ethnicity and indigeneity as a means to resist or establish claims from hydropower projects. This thesis makes two contributions to the growing scholarship on the contentious politics of hydropower development in the Himalayas. Firstly, it examines the agency of hydropower-affected communities in Darjeeling, who are highway residents and forest communities, with no claims to land ownership or indigeneity. Secondly, in contrast to the literature that focuses on state governance, it examines local, formal and informal political structures that mediate on hydropower decision-making, processes, and outcomes. This thesis centres on three empirical chapters (written in the form of papers) that examine issues of governance, local precarity, and people’s agency as they intersect with the politics of hydropower development. The empirical chapters demonstrate how colonial and postcolonial development agendas, local political dynamics, and top-down exclusionary practices of hydropower governance weaken collective agency and perpetuate unequal power relationships. Furthermore, even when encouraged to protest by elite actors, people living in socio-political margins or ‘unruly spaces’, may be induced to support hydropower projects by hopes of antecedent benefits of infrastructure development and temporary employment. These local responses of support, spurred by a network of politically charged local brokers, accrue to support ecologically damaging hydropower projects. This thesis unpacks the drivers of community support for hydropower development and sheds light on the localized and wider dynamics of hydropower decision-making. It argues that responses of support have to be examined as embedded in the dynamics of broader social and historical processes of marginalisation and dispossession. In providing perspectives from the margins, this thesis draws on and contributes to theoretical debates on political ecology, as well as postcolonial and political geography literatures on governance, development, agency, and state in the Himalayan region.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Osbahr, H. and Arnall, A.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Agriculture, Policy & Development
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
ID Code:99017

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