The paper examines the performance of participatory water institutions in India’s Eastern Indo-Gangetic plains region using new institutional economics and management governance fundamentals. Water institutions are of great importance for water resource management in India’s Eastern Indo-Gangetic plains since the region has relatively abundant water but lags behind significantly in economic development and growth with a high incidence of poverty. Engineering solutions to water management have been implemented but have not given good results principally because of weak institutional development and design in the region. Effective and efficient participatory water institutions are urgently needed. The research uses concepts from new institutional economics and management governance theory to build a conceptual framework for explaining the performance of participatory water institutions. The framework identifies eight institutional rationalities: technical, environmental, economic, social, political organizational, financial and government; as well as five institutional features: clear objectives, good interaction, adaptiveness, right scale, and compliance, as linked to performance. Based on this, a survey instrument was developed and a survey conducted obtaining responses from more than 500 households across 51 such institutions in the eastern Indo-Gangetic plains states of Assam and Bihar. The data were analyzed through statistical and econometric techniques including Ordered-Probit. The results support the relevance of the concepts in explaining performance of water institutions, and a number of drivers of performance were identified through Ordered-Probit, particularly, four rationalities—technical, economic, social and organizational, (with coefficients (0.4622, 0.3803, 0.4303, 0.2457) and three institutional features—good interaction, adaptiveness and appropriate scale (with coefficients 0.4242, 0.2703, 0.6756) (based on a 5-point Likert scale), as playing a positive and significant role in enhancing performance. The results provide a number of useful insights which can help guide interventions and policy towards better design and development of the water institutions, and help improve water resource management and livelihoods in the region.
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