Denying water to people

Water privatisation and other similar schemes to benefit big corporations are the brain child of the World Bank.

India is governed by a written constitution and any policy decision or programme by the Central or the State government must be within the parameters of the country’s Constitution.

The State under our Constitution is mandated to protect the human rights. Any government policy which seeks to shift this responsibility from the State to the private sector would be unconstitutional and hence impermissible.

Since its inception, the United Nations has accepted that water is a ‘human right’. In 2010, the General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring the Right to Water and Sanitation a human right.

The Supreme Court has held that Article 21 of the Constitution includes the human right of citizen to Water and Sanitation. From this point of view, any proposal to privatise water would be unconstitutional.

Is it not, therefore, a matter of concern that Indian State should be working towards privatising the water supply, which really amounts to abdicating its duty to enforce human rights? Ever since the National Water Policy 2002 was formulated, there have been attempts in India to privatise and commodify water.

Water problem and its peculiarities in supply and distributions are all misdirected against the poor. In Delhi, the state government is trying to privatise water supply. In reality, this will end up catering to the affluent at the cost of 70 per cent of the poor households in the national capital.

The whole exercise by the Delhi government is to give exploitive profits to the private party. According to public information, it costs Delhi Jal Board Rs15 per litre to obtain water. But it has agreed to supply the water to the private company at about Rs1.50 per litre.

There is then further benefit to the company by permitting it an automatic 10 per cent annual increase in water billing to consumers. Apart from water charges, in the proposed new tariff structure, a sewage charge of 60 per cent is also envisaged, notwithstanding that if any pipes have to be replaced that will have to be carried out by the Delhi Jal Board.

But the most astounding is the introduction of service charges, apart from billing for the water consumption. This service charge is a shamefaced attempt to give extra money, because the consumer is paying separately for consumption anyway. On consumption charge of say Rs 170 per month, there will be added a service charge of Rs 320 per month. There is no explanation of what and how service charge can be imposed apart from consumption charges.

Another unabashed provision to favour the private company is to divide colonies into District Metered Areas (DMAs), on the pretext that water would be provided to the DMAs by private companies at all times/days (24x7).  But there is a ill conceived catch so as to benefit private companies, as the performance of the water company will be assessed not on the basis of whether water was received 24x7 in every house or not, but on the basis of whether the water company provided 24x7 water at the input of each DMA or not.

Divert water

The water company can also divert water from one area to another within the same DMA. This would neither affect the performance of the company nor be treated as a violation of any of the licence conditions. The water company will try to maximise revenues by diverting water to big hotels, industries etc, which would purchase water in bulk at paying higher prices.

The Delhi Jal Board should be looking into more worthwhile functions. It supplies 850 million gallons of drinking water per day, which is more than its installed capacity. Its treatment facility provides for only 5.4 million gallons a day – the rest of the untreated water is one of major sources of the Yamuna pollution.

The Delhi government is inspired by the World Bank-supported 24x7 water supply pilot projects as, for example, the one being implemented in Hubli-Dharwad. But the Report of the Working Group on Urban Water Supply and Sanitation for the 12th Plan has pointed out that the initial project period of 2004-08 which was subsequently extended to 2011. It took seven year to cover just 10 per cent of  Hubli-Dharwad’s existing water connections.

Water privatisation and other similar schemes to benefit big corporations are the brain child of the World Bank. Though initially many countries succumbed to the bank’s pressures, the anger of the masses at the deprivation of  water to them has unleashed a movement of re-municipalisation of the water supply in several cities, most notably Paris (which re-commenced with public water management in January 2010).

The re-municipalisation got off to a promising start – water tariffs were reduced by 8 percent in 2011. Two countries are making water privatisation illegal: Uruguay, and the Netherlands. In both cases, the new laws prohibit not only the sale of water but also the delegation of the operation of water supply to private companies.

As recent as October 2012, many civil society organisations have protested to the President of European Commission to stop imposing the policy of privatisation of water.

The newly formed municipal corporations in Delhi have also demanded that water supply be handed over to them. It is legally impermissible for the Delhi government to ignore the global trend towards re-municipalisation and to invite private companies to play a larger role in so essential a public utility as the supply and distribution of water.

  A previous attempt to privatise water was made in 2005. At that time, when World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz visited Delhi, he was confronted with vociferous protests against ‘the Bank’s policies and conditionalities of water privatisation.

Why is it being revived now?  Is the urgent need for getting big donations to fund forthcoming elections in Delhi the secret behind the revival attempt? Any continuance of water privatisation policy will remain suspect.

(The writer is former Chief Justice of Delhi high court)

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