A Dilemma With Managing Common-Pool Resources: Are People’s Institutions a Way Forward?

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The case is about collective action at the community level for managing common-pool resources (CPRs) in the context of an indigenous irrigation system—the aahar-pyne system, in the southern part of Bihar, India. The case describes the reasons for the emergence of the “tragedy of the commons” problem and the efforts undertaken, through community-led interventions to resolve it. The case illustrates a community-led solution, in contrast to conventional schools of thought, to resolving the problem and discusses the various issues and challenges that were faced during the development intervention. The approach is based on Elinor Ostrom’s eight-point design principles suggested for managing CPRs. The case culminates in a situation where the concerted efforts of about a year are on the verge of having been undertaken in vain. It illustrates a dilemma faced by the larger community in general, and the protagonist in particular, wherein it is difficult to decide the future course of action regarding the continuation of the community-led intervention. Students are asked to suggest alternative solutions to the dilemma, with clear justifications, based on a proper analysis of the case.

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