This paper examines decentralized reform initiatives in the Indian rural water sector from a policy perspective as well as from a political perspective focused on institutional design and implementation at the local level. It argues that normative economic prescriptions regarding decentralization are not very useful. The paper finds that the institutional architecture for decentralized reforms is highly contested and requires a better understanding of power and the role of micro-politics in shaping decentralization designs and outcomes. It also suggests that greater devolution in the water sector can lead to greater decentralization and democratization across sectors.

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