Dump the idea

Privatisation of water distribution could become a reality soon across the country. The Centre’s new water policy calls for privatisation of water services and stresses the need to price water in a way that will enable the government to fully recover costs of managing water resource projects.

Privatisation of water was also the focus of discussion at the recent government-backed World Water Summit in Bangalore. Privatisation of water has been tried in several wards in cities like Delhi, Mysore, Belgaum, etc. Authorities here have claimed the experiment to be a success. Residents and activists disagree. Tariffs on water increased dramatically and supply of water to those who could not pay i.e. the poor, was shut off.

There have been instances of the poor turning to water known to be severely polluted, resulting in outbreaks of killer epidemics. Privatisation has thus led to deterioration of public health.  Hiking water tariffs could trigger riots too as it did in Bolivia.

The idea of privatising water has been assiduously peddled by the World Bank, NGOs that receive funding to implement its agenda, business corporations, consultants and so on. Profits motivate their marketing of this idea but these proponents of privatisation have sought to sell their agenda on the principle of efficiency. They have held out privatisation of water as the solution to India’s shrinking water resources and mounting needs.

It is a pity that the government has bought into this specious argument. The new water policy envisages the government’s withdrawal from acting as a service provider in the water sector. The government’s voluntary abdication of its responsibilities in a sector as crucial to life as water is shocking.

Proponents of privatisation argue as if this is a magic bullet, a cure-all for all our water woes.

Nothing is further from the truth. Privatisation will not only fail to address our existing water problems but also it will trigger new ones. India’s main challenge is to find a way to ensure access for all to safe drinking water. Privatisation restricts this access by making water unaffordable.  The way to address water shortage is to conserve it through means such as rainwater harvesting. Our water is meant for everyone not just the rich in this country.

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