The morning after the end of Maghi (Tharu New Year) celebrations in January 2015, I attended a village meeting in Badalpur, Bardia. It was a cold day, so residents came bundled in mufflers and jackets, arriving on foot or motorbike from the village’s several toles, which are spread out like an archipelago amid a sea of khet fields. Most were men, though a number of women came too and congregated at the back of the meeting hall, which also serves as a vegetable market.

At nine o’clock, a man of about sixty, wearing an orange beanie, stood up at the front of the hall. After the obligatory microphone taps and check, check, checks, the crowd settled into their seats. Donning glasses, the gentleman produced a sheet of paper, from which he began to read. It was a detailed list of budget expenditures, which he recited line item by line item, including everything from construction materials for a school wall to cups of tea drunk at a meeting. Some people in the audience yawned; a few fell asleep.

I didn’t. It was my first day in Badalpur, and this all seemed very unusual.

At the time, my impression of local government in Nepal was colored by a few facts and discouraging stories I had heard: elections for local government posts had not occurred since 1997; the centrally appointed functionaries currently serving were usually outsiders and unmotivated to serve their constituents; corruption was rife. Local government, like central government, was a mess.

But what I was seeing in Badalpur didn’t fit with that narrative. The purpose of the meeting, in addition to publicly reviewing the previous year’s budget, was to choose new village leaders, or barghars, for the coming year. Barghars are chosen through consensus at such meetings every Maghi. I would soon learn that they oversee a system of local government that is, arguably, quite effective: barghars raise revenue locally, oversee construction of small roads and other local infrastructure, and adjudicate disputes in the community. Most impressively, they help manage the area’s labyrinthine irrigation system, ensuring that the local farmland remains some of Nepal’s most fertile.

So why had I never heard of barghars before? Perhaps because they are not “official” officials. Rather, they form a key pillar of a traditional Tharu governance system that runs parallel to, and mostly unrecognized by, the village development committee (VDC) and other bodies of official government. These systems exist in many communities throughout the mid- and far-western Terai, yet they seem unknown to most Nepalis—as they were to me—and woefully off the radar in discussions about good governance in Nepal.

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Badalpur is located on Nepal’s largest island. The island is known to locals as “Bhaura Tappa,” and to outsiders as “Rajapur.” Some call it “Sri Lanka” for its teardrop-like shape, though this could also refer to its bloody past (the area was a Maoist stronghold during the civil war). Rajapur lies in western Bardia, part of an inland delta created where the Karnali River spills out of the Siwalak range into the Terai. The island has a population of over 94,000 people and contains six VDCs and one eponymous municipality. Its southernmost portion, which extends into Uttar Pradhesh, includes part of India’s Kotarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary.

You’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of this place; most people in Kathmandu haven’t. Part of the reason may be its remoteness, which means few outsiders travel there. The island’s first permanent bridge—a one-kilometer cement span over the Geruwa River on its east side—was completed in just 2014. Prior to that, getting there was possible only by ferry or a seasonal pontoon bridge, which itself was built only in 2000. Today, the island has less than a kilometer of paved road and few vehicles other than motorcycles. There are just a handful of hoarding boards in its main bazaar. It has a sleepy feel.

Rajapur contains some of the most fertile land in the country. During late March, much of it is a vast golden ocean of wheat, swaying and waving in the wind. In summer, rice fields are green and lush as far as the eye can see. Hay, the byproduct of fertility, is abundant. Children play atop mountains of it, which can dwarf houses in size, and on winter mornings people huddle around fires made from straw at road-junction tea shops.

Rajapur’s fertility, and thus life on the island, is dependent on the mercurial rivers that surround it. The Karnali’s flow is hugely variable: during the dry season, it is just a few hundred cubic meters per second, but at the end of the monsoon it can rise above 20,000. During floods, the river erodes its banks and deposits huge boulders, stones, and sand, destroying land that farmers depend on. When calm, it brings much-needed water to the island’s complex maze of irrigation canals. The water carries with it organic matter and humus from the hills and mountains above, a natural fertilizer for farmers’ crops.

The inland delta island of Rajapur

On my first visit to Badalpur, I stayed with the brother of a friend of mine, a retired schoolteacher named Madan Chaudhary. A bear of a man, he took cold showers on cold days and had an affinity for meat and strong alcohol. His late father had been an important community leader and long-serving barghar, and Madan took pride in explaining the barghar system and other aspects of his Tharu heritage to me. (Months later, following the promulgation of the new constitution, he became involved in organizing pro-Tharuwan protests.)

Madan told me that in order to understand the local governance system, I needed to understand the local irrigation system—the two were intertwined. He took me on a motorcycle tour of the island. We drove to Okhariya, at the northern tip, to see the intake of the main irrigation canal, called the Budhi Kulo. There, the canal is over 20 meters across, a formidable waterway in its own right, but nothing compared to the Karnali. Surrounding the intake is a vast expanse of stone and water, where the Karnali begins to fan out into its delta. Standing there felt like being on the surface of an ancient, elemental planet.

Madan explained that Okhariya is the site of an important ritual each spring, when Tharu priests known as guruwas sacrifice pigs, chickens, and goats in order to ensure sufficient water for irrigation. The puja coincides with upstream snowmelt, and so each year, like clockwork, the river’s level rises after the puja, bringing water just in time for rice planting.

He pointed out the faint outline of the Japanese bridge at Chisapani, along the East-West Highway, to the north, barely visible through the Terai’s winter haze. North of that lay the hills and mountains, the source of the Budhi Kulo’s water.

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One of the most important figures in the island’s modern history was a man named Laxman Chaudhary, who expanded the Budhi Kulo (originally a small, meandering stream) for irrigation use. Though he lived over a century ago, older community members still speak of him with reverence and a familiarity as if he were around just yesterday.

I met Laxman Chaudhary’s great-great-grandson, Som Prasad Chaudhary, who is in his 60s, in the village that his forebears established near the center of the island, the now ironically named Naya Gaon. Sitting on a rope bed under a mango tree, Som Prasad explained that his Deshaurya Tharu ancestors originally arrived on the island as cattle herders when the island was still a jungle. After discovering the land’s fertility, they settled down and cleared forests to establish farmland. Laxman, his ancestor, brought laborers from India to help dig the Budhi Kulo, whom he paid in “ganja and silver coin.” This was an immense task, requiring hundreds, if not thousands, of workers.

After Laxman Chaudhary established the Budhi Kulo, Som Prasad explained, more settlers began to arrive on the island. Many of them were Tharus fleeing exploitation by Pahadi landlords in Dang Valley, to the east. The westward migration of Dang Tharus began in the early 1900s but increased dramatically after the government’s malaria eradication program in the 1960s, which allowed more Pahadis to settle in Dang. As a result, Rajapur became predominantly Tharu, and remains so today. (According to the latest census, Tharus—including both Deshaurya and Dang Tharus—are 73 percent of the population, making the island perhaps the most heavily Tharu enclave of its size in the country.)

Pahadis also came to the island, and although they constituted a minority of the population, they controlled a disproportionate share of the land. The Ranas appointed Pahadi zamindars to collect taxes, and granted tax-free land known as birta to members of the elite in order to secure their loyalty. At first, most Pahadi landlords visited the island only during the winter, avoiding malarial summers, but post-malaria, many took up permanent residence.

As the island’s population grew, so did the complexity of its irrigation system. In order to bring more water to more farmland, the Budhi Kulo sprouted new branches. Eventually, the system expanded to serve over 10,000 hectares and scores of villages, making it one of the largest farmer-managed irrigation systems in the country.

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Running a river-fed irrigation system is an immense task. A major physical challenge is sediment. Sediment is carried by all rivers, but Nepal’s rivers are especially well endowed with it. The country’s mountain ranges contain lots of soft rock, millions of tons of which are eroded each year and carried away by rivers. Road and other recent infrastructure construction have only exacerbated the erosion. As the rivers reach the Terai and slow down, stones and sediment drop to the bottom of the water column and settle. This causes riverbeds to rise and, eventually, rivers to change their course. Improperly maintained canals will quickly dry up, or find a new path, sometimes cutting through valuable farmland.

On Rajapur, most canals have to be cleaned once a year, an enormous undertaking, requiring the removal of many tons of rock and sediment. Traditionally, the Okhariya intake was cleaned each October-November by a massive work party, known as deshawar, of up to 5,000 men working for weeks or even months at a time.

The commander-in-chief of this colossal operation was the Budhi Kulo’s chief administrator, or chaudhary. The position was first held by Laxman Chaudhary, then passed on to his descendants and held today by Som Prasad, his great-great grandson. (The term “chaudhary” once denoted Tharu leaders who collected taxes on behalf of the early Shah and Rana state, and at some point some point “Chaudhary” also became a common Tharu surname, but on Rajapur the position of chaudhary is chiefly associated with irrigation.) The chaudhary enlisted the help of barghars and their assistants, known as chowkidars, to mobilize laborers and draft animals from the villages. Upon arriving at the site, each village contingent was assigned a section of canal by a surveyor known as the naandaruwa, on behalf of the chaudhary. The men blocked the water’s flow using temporary dikes made from earth and brushwood, then dug out the canal bed using hand tools. Often half-submerged in water, they toiled day in and day out.

After working all day, the men camped out nearby the canal’s mouth, drinking homemade beer and roasting pork into the night. Alok Kumar Tharu, the current chaudhary of one of the Budhi Kulo’s branch canals, told me that, “From one perspective, deshawar was fun. People from everywhere got together, and in the evenings it was like a picnic. People would bring supplies from their houses, and there was no shortage of pork.” He added, “But work is work, and it was difficult work. If they had to work for months at a time, people got sick of it.”

After the deshawar, there was usually plenty of water in the Budhi Kulo and its branches, except for a week or two each year around the time of rice-seeding. At that time, a rationing system had to be used. Farmers would negotiate the flow with their neighbors in order to make sure everyone received their allocated share; any disagreements were settled by barghars or chaudharys. Different branch canals had different systems for rationing water, but a universal and enduring rule was that water cannot not be wasted. “You can use as much water as you need for your fields, but you can’t send it directly to the outlet. If you do that, there is a fine,” Alok Kumar Tharu told me.

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The labor-intensive nature of river-fed irrigation has meant that it is, throughout the world, nearly always a communal effort. (Private, individualized canals would be too much work, not to mention create a layout conundrum.) Yet, as the Budhi Kulo makes clear, organizing people to maintain canals and agree on how to distribute water in times of scarcity requires a serious degree of organization and social cooperation. For this reason, irrigation has been a topic of interest to social scientists for some time.

One of the most prominent scholars to study the subject was a professor of political economy at Indiana University named Elinor Ostrom, who eventually became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics, in 2009. Ostrom studied the management of what she termed “common pool resources”—including water, pastureland, forests, and fisheries—around the world.

She conducted part of her prize-winning research in Nepal, where she led a research team in the late 1980s that evaluated 135 irrigation systems throughout the country. They looked at government agency­–managed and community-managed (or “farmer-managed”) systems, some of which were up to 400 years old. Some were highly effective, others all but defunct. Ostrom’s team found that farmer-managed irrigation systems consistently out-performed agency-managed ones. This was true even though the farmer-managed systems were considerably lower-tech (most lacked the cement canal linings or flow-regulating weirs of agency systems). The best systems did not lack governance—they indeed had established rules and mechanisms for enforcement—but they weren’t run by the government.

This finding was consistent with numerous studies Ostrom conducted around the world, which showed that the best systems for managing common pool resources were those run by resource users themselves. In her 1990 book Governing the Commons, Ostrom noted that resource users are uniquely qualified to design appropriate management systems. Through their daily interaction with the local environmental and social world, they are familiar with the nature of the challenges faced, and therefore better equipped than outsiders (such as government officials) to design necessary and appropriate rules for governing the resource. Ostrom also noted that users are the best rule enforcers, since they tend to be well informed about violations and less susceptible to corruption than outsiders, given their self-interest. She illustrated this point with an example from irrigation:

“The irrigator who nears the end of a rotation turn would like to extend the time of his turn (and thus the amount of water obtained). The next irrigator in the rotation system waits nearby for him to finish, and would even like to start early. The presence of the first irrigator deters the second from an early start, the presence of the second irrigator deters the first from a late ending.”

Ostrom also noted that systems designed by users often incorporate “nested institutions,” in which large systems contain smaller ones. This concept is readily apparent in the Budhi Kulo system: branch canals are under separate management by assistant chaudharys and barghars, with their own rules about labor requirements and the distribution of water. Ostrom argued that nested institutions are important because they allow lower-level institutions to design locally appropriate rules and enforcement mechanisms, while at the same time benefitting from membership in a larger system in which many more people cooperate.

Wheat fields on Rajapur. Peter Gill

Ostrom’s work was pioneering, calling into question the popular notion of the “tragedy of the commons,” according to which rational individuals inevitably over-consume and mismanage common resources, unless they are either nationalized and regulated by the government or privatized. (This paradigm had been popularized by the biologist Garret Hardin in an eloquent, if flawed article in Science in 1968.) Ostrom showed that tragedies could be avoided when communities are put in charge.

However, systems like the Budhi Kulo shouldn’t be romanticized. Sushil Subedee, a former consultant for an Asian Development Bank­–funded irrigation project in Rajapur whom I met in Kathmandu, told me that during the deshawar, barghars and chaudharys exercised almost martial authority. “Barghars could be very ruthless. They could ask people to get into the Karnali in the month of December, and these guys wouldn’t say no.” Failure to comply with the chaudharys’ and barghars’ commands could result in reprimand, fines, or physical punishment.

The chaudharys’ and barghars’ authority was also reinforced by a significant power differential. Most chaudharys and barghars came from locally powerful families (some barghars became Panchayat-era officials, or local party leaders after 1990). By contrast, the majority of the canal workers were kamaiyas, or bonded laborers. Traditionally, kamaiays were Tharus from poorer households who agreed to work for wealthier households on an annual basis in exchange for food, shelter, and clothing. In the beginning, most kamaiyas worked for fellow Tharus, and, according to locals, their conditions were not so bad. But as Pahadi control of land expanded on Rajapur, many kamaiyas went to work for Pahadis and the patron-kamaiya relationship became more exploitative. Patrons made predatory loans, and kamaiyas became locked in downward spirals of debt that spanned generations. (In a study in neighboring Kailali, the geographer Katharine Rankin found that treatment of kamaiyas by Pahadi patrons was, in general, much worse than treatment by Tharu patrons.)

The chaudhary Alok Kumar Tharu estimated that, prior to 2001, when the kamaiya system was outlawed, 75 percent of deshawar workers were bonded laborers. Arguably, the bonded labor system made the Budhi Kulo irrigation system possible. Dipak Gyawali, the former Minister of Water Resources, told me, “In a sense it was hydraulic despotism. But you can’t run a system like that without it.”

Stones and sediment removed from the Budhi Kulo intake are dumped on its banks. Peter Gill

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Ostrom’s arguments about the importance of user-managed common pool­ resources systems have been widely accepted among academics, and to some extent by policy-makers around the world. But how are such systems dealing with rapid rates of change, both social and environmental, in the globalizing world? The Budhi Kulo is an illustrative case. Over the past several decades, it has had to adapt to a series of changes brought from outside as well as from within.

In 1991, the Asian Development Bank approved a $16.6 million loan for what became the Rajapur Irrigation Rehabilitation Project, to be implemented by the Department of Irrigation. In order to protect the island from floods (which were regular and destructive), government engineers proposed to build embankments on the north and east sides, and floodgates for the Budhi Kulo. In tandem with flood control, they proposed to significantly modify the island’s irrigation system by integrating five of the island’s smaller systems into the Budhi Kulo, plugging their separate intakes and substantially increasing the size of the Budhi Kulo’s “command area.” At several locations, concrete weirs were to be constructed to replace traditional brushwood dams, which had previously been used to regulate flow.

At the time, irrigation projects were notorious for seeking technocratic fixes to what were essentially social challenges; as Ostrom had shown, communities were usually better at running irrigation systems than the government. So it was unusual when, following initial consultation meetings with locals, the Asian Development Bank agreed to substantial changes to the original project design. Mr. Subedee told me that local barghars and chaudharys were able to convince the engineers that their idea for a single canal intake was unworkable, given that it would require a major overhaul of their traditional management systems. (As a result, only two of the smaller systems, the Patabhar and the Gola, were integrated into the Budhi Kulo.)

The project also heeded local demands for connectivity to the outside world. It agreed to build nearly 40 kilometers of roads and a 145-meter seasonal pontoon bridge over the Geruwa River, connecting farmers to off-island markets by road for the first time, in 2000. (Due to a new irrigation policy in 1992, which required beneficiary communities to contribute a portion to overall project costs, the roads were built using locally “donated” labor. As with deshawar work, much of this was actually performed by kamaiyas on behalf of their landlords.)

Recognizing the importance of traditional institutions, the Bank project also took some measures to avoid disrupting them. Subedee and other consultants spent many hours interviewing chaudharys and barghars, writing down their previously unwritten rules. The institutions had to be “systematized, in the sense that they had to have an executive command, and the institution had to be registered with the government,” he explained. But an effort was made to minimize undue interference. While new “branch canal committees” were formed, this was a name change more than anything else: chaudharys became “presidents” and barghars became “committee members.”

Nonetheless, the project ushered in significant changes in how the system is managed. One evening over drinks and chicken, sitting on his kitchen floor, Madan explained to me how, prior to the project, the Budhi Kulo’s water had been managed by means of traditional Tharu hydraulic engineering. Each April, work parties lashed together brushwood dams at canal intersections, diverting part of the flow toward the branch. Constructing the brushwood dams was hard work, and they had to be rebuilt when they got washed away by monsoon floods. But the washing away also allowed the water to scour out the canal bed again, sweeping away sediment that otherwise would have to be removed by hand. (In a 2004 Water Nepal article, Gyawali argued that such “disposable dams” are therefore more environmentally appropriate than their concrete counterparts.)

By contrast, the concrete weirs constructed by the Asian Development Bank project to regulate flow had no release mechanism for sediment, significantly increasing the amount of sand and silt that had to be removed each year during canal cleaning. (In addition, locals say that the number of fish has decreased since the weirs were built, though this could also be due to changing fishing practices.) In order to deal with the sediment, the irrigation system shifted from relying primarily on manpower to machine-power. A special committee for all the irrigation systems on the island acquired mechanical excavators, which now perform the bulk of the work of canal cleaning. Depending on the sedimentation load any particular year, a single excavator can dig out the Okhariya intake in a matter of weeks or even days. Instead of rounding up laborers for deshawar, barghars today collect taxes from farmers to pay for fuel and hire a driver for the excavator—typically, farmers pay a few hundred rupees per bigha per year.

When labor is required, such as when the excavators break down, it can be difficult to mobilize. Since the freeing of the kamaiyas in 2000, free labor is not easily available. Although many kamaiyas continue to live very impoverished lives, often on small plots of poor land provided by the government, landlords can no longer call upon them to do unpaid work. And as in the rest of rural Nepal, young men increasingly leave to seek opportunity away from home, either in Nepal’s cities or abroad. “The labor market took over. Why would you go and voluntarily work for the community for, let’s say, five or six days, when you could go in the market and earn some three hundred rupees a day, or whatever it is they get? That’s what has led to the breakdown of the voluntarism,” Mr. Gyawali told me in Kathmandu.

Dil Bahadur Chaudhary, an elderly chaudhary of the Bhimapur branch, said that after getting an education or working abroad, young men had become less obedient workers: “Before, one chaudhary would manage 5,000 people. [The head chaudhary] would just tell people, ‘Tomorrow we need to work at such and such a place,’ and out of fear people would come running. Now, we would need approximately 250 people to manage 5,000 . . . The difference between then and now is like earth and sky.”

The Maoist conflict also brought challenges for the system. By the early 2000s, violence was growing on the island. The Maoists capitalized on the island’s remoteness as well as discontent among the Tharu population, particularly kamaiyas. The army and police arrested and tortured many alleged rebels, often indiscriminately targeting Tharus. By the end of the conflict, OHCHR documented 42 disappearances at the hands of the army on the island. Many chaudharys, barghars, and other local leaders fled the area out of fear of being targeted by one or both sides. The irrigation system functioned, but not always at full capacity. At one point, the army denied permission for a deshawar at the Okhariya intake, but the impasse was solved after a special delegation of chaudharys was dispatched to Kathmandu, gaining permission directly from an army general.

Maghi meeting for choosing barghars in Badalpur village, Rajapur Municipality. Peter Gill

In the “New Nepal” following the end of the war, the Budhi Kulo has had to adapt to pressures felt throughout the country for more inclusiveness and democratization.

In ethnic terms, the system has been quite inclusive for a long time. As Pahadis began to settle in larger numbers during the 1950s and 60s, they took up roles in irrigation management alongside Tharus. Today, the long-time chaudhary of the Khairi-Chandanpur canal (one of the island’s smaller systems) is a Chettri, as is a key member of the Central Farmers’ Committee, which manages the excavators for digging out the canals. Many Pahadis serve as barghars. (Dalit representation, however, is less common.)

Although women and youth were not traditionally allowed to serve in leadership positions, this is beginning to change. At the village meeting I attended in Badalpur on that cold day in January 2015, one of the incumbent barghars was a woman, although she explained that she would be stepping down because she did not have enough time for both her leadership and household duties. Bhole Chaudhary, a boyish-looking man in his early 30s, was chosen as the new head barghar for Badalpur. People told me that he was the youngest person to ever hold this position.

In addition, Bhole held the distinction of being one of Badalpur’s first-ever elected barghars. Traditionally, barghars were chosen through consensus, but in 2015, some villagers felt that this was not democratic enough. Part way through the Maghi meeting, a young man in the back of the crowd stood up and spoke forcefully but calmly in Tharu. “This is supposed to be a democratic country, so why don’t we hold a ballot election?” a friend translated for me. After some spirited discussion, it was decided to hold Badalpur’s first-ever ballot, and Bhole, as well as four other barghars for the village’s various tols, were eventually pronounced winners. Other villages in the area have also instituted ballots for barghars, although certain positions, like the Budhi Kulo chaudhary, are still inherited hereditarily.

All of this suggests that the Budhi Kulo has been gradually, but successfully, adapting to momentous changes in the social and physical world. Perhaps a corollary to Ostrom’s argument that the best common pool resource management systems are designed by resource users is that they are also adapted by resource users. One wonders whether there would be any water in the Budhi Kulo at all today if it were under control of the Department of Irrigation.

Still, a major test of the system looms: climate change is likely to have major impacts on farmer-managed irrigation systems throughout Nepal. Changes in the amount and timing of rainfall, as well as the timing of snowmelt and the long-term melting of upstream glaciers, will affect the availability of water. Floods may become more frequent. In a recent unpublished paper, Umesh Parajuli, an irrigation engineer, optimistically noted that traditional irrigation technologies, such as the brushwood dams once used on the Budhi Kulo, are more adaptable in the face of climate change. However, these technologies have often been abandoned because they require a labor-intensive approach that is increasingly untenable in modern Nepal. Much remains to be seen regarding how farmer-managed irrigation will adapt to climate change.

Fish congregate below an impassible weir on the Bduhi Kulo, making easy fishing. Peter Gill

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Despite all the changes of the past few decades, one thing seems to stay the same: barghars remain unofficial local administrators. Despite their leadership in irrigation, conflict resolution, and other projects in communities throughout the mid- and far-western Terai, the barghar system runs mostly unrecognized by the Government of Nepal.

A 2014 report commissioned by the World Bank’s Program for Accountability in Nepal, which curiously went unpublished (I obtained a copy from a Tharu acquaintance who was tangentially involved with it), advocated for more coordination with barghars: “the traditional governance institution has much to offer to the formal local governance in Tharu villages. . . . There is an under-utilized potential for improving delivery of Social Security Entitlements and other public services to the Tharu people of the Western Terai through strategic and institutionalized cooperation with the Barghars.”

In Badalpur, the municipality has sometimes enlisted the help of barghars, such as when mobilizing villagers in a recent toilet-building campaign to make the area “open defecation free.” The problem, according to locals, is that the municipality gives nothing in return.

On a summer morning in 2015, I was sipping tea with Madan’s younger brother Mohan in a shop in Rajapur bazaar when the municipal secretary, a political appointee from Humla District, came in and sat down next to us. I had met him several months previously, and so we chitchatted for a bit. He mentioned that the next day his office would be hosting a “public hearing,” in which citizens could come and ask questions and give feedback about public service delivery and the local budget. Mohan asked whether he had informed barghars, so that they could mobilize their constituents. The thought had not even occurred to the municipal secretary. Later, after the secretary had left, Mohan expressed his exasperation to me. Regarding barghars, he said, the government has a “use and throw mentality.”

Special thanks to Mohan Chaudhary, Madhav Lal Chaudhary, Madan Kumar Chaudhary, Chakra Thapa, Alok Kumar Tharu, Dr. Prachanda Pradhan, Sushil Subedee, Dipak Gyawali, Dr. Gisele Krauskopff, Gopal Dahit, Kate Saunders, and Mike Gill and Barbara Butterworth.

Cover photo: The Budhi Kulo flood gates, near Okhariya. Peter Gill

Correction: May 2, 2016
An earlier version of this article misstated the school where Elinor Ostrom was a professor. She taught at Indiana University, not the University of Illinois.