Examining Private Participation in Embankment Maintenance in the Indian Sundarbans
This paper analyses the complementarities between land productivity and conservation investments in the context of river embankment maintenance in the Indian Sundarbans. The study finds that households whose principal occupation is aquaculture commit more resources to embankment maintenance relative to those in non-aquaculture employment. While conservation efforts are greater in all types of aquaculture plots irrespective of distance from the embankments, such efforts unambiguously decrease for agricultural plots that are located at a distance from the embankments. Private returns to aquaculture are much higher than returns to agriculture, enabling aquaculture households in invest in managing their local public good. However, there is evidence of free riding in canal-based aquaculture when users draw water from a single source. Head-enders with greater wealth as well as intense social networks tend to free-ride while tail-enders with less land holdings contribute more towards canal maintenance. Furthermore, public intervention in embankment maintenance may be crowding out private efforts. Thus, in primarily agricultural areas, productivity-enhancing policies may be more efficient than policies that fully subsidize public good maintenance.
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