Monsoon Economies

From History for a Sustainable Future

Monsoon Economies

India's History in a Changing Climate

By Tirthankar Roy

How interventions to mitigate climate-caused poverty and inequality in India came at a cost to environmental sustainability.





How interventions to mitigate climate-caused poverty and inequality in India came at a cost to environmental sustainability.

In the monsoon regions of South Asia, the rainy season sustains life but brings with it the threat of floods, followed by a long stretch of the year when little gainful work is possible and the threat of famine looms. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, a series of interventions by Indian governments and other actors mitigated these conditions, enabling agricultural growth, encouraging urbanization, and bringing about a permanent decrease in death rates. But these actions—largely efforts to ensure wider access to water—came at a cost to environmental sustainability. In Monsoon Economies, Tirthankar Roy explores the interaction between the environment and the economy in the emergence of modern India.

Roy argues that the tropical monsoon climate makes economic and population growth contingent on water security. But in a water-scarce world, the means used to increase water security not only created environmental stresses but also made political conflict more likely. Roy investigates famine relief, the framing of a seasonal “water famine,” and the concept of public trust in water; the political movements that challenged socially sanctioned forms of deprivation; water as a public good; water quality in cities; the shift from impounding river water in dams and reservoirs to exploring groundwater; the seasonality of a monsoon economy; and economic lessons from India for a world facing environmental degradation.


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262543583 230 pp. | 5.25 in x 8 in 8 b&w illus.


  • “Examining the high costs of India's success in managing water resources in a tropical monsoon climate, Tirthankar Roy guides historians and economists alike along a fresh path for interpreting the past and future environment.”

    Alan Mikhail

    Chace Family Professor of History, Yale University; author of Under Osman's Tree: The Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and Environmental History

  • “Monsoon seasonality provides the framework for Roy to bring together the histories of modern India's economy with its experience with water scarcity. The book provides a model for integrating economic and environmental history.”

    David Gilmartin

    Professor of History, North Carolina State University

  • “In Monsoon Economies, Tirthankar Roy has turned his formidable talents to the environment, showing geography's crucial role in modern India's economic development.”

    Prasannan Parthasarathi

    Professor of History, Boston College

  • “Roy shows how water shaped India's development path by constraining the utility of land, labor, and capital, hence the nature of capitalism.”

    Kaoru Sugihara

    Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto, Japan

  • “Roy examines the economic life of South Asia through the prism of water, and shows his readers how this simple move requires a rethinking of much that we think we know about development, environment, and fairness. This is an eye-opening book.”

    Jan de Vries

    Professor Emeritus of History and Economics, University of California, Berkeley