Water as Luxury, not Right
by Sandhya Jain on 31 Jan 2012 11 Comments

Marx claimed that the State would wither away once the proletariat took over the material and productive forces of society and made the state apparatus redundant; classes would cease to exist and political representation would be unnecessary. This writer has always held this stateless communism in disdain, preferring democracy where the State acknowledges its duties towards citizens, even if it fails to meet all their aspirations.


Today, the dissolution of the State as we know it is taking unexpected forms as the UPA absolves itself of responsibility to meet citizens’ basic needs. Acting under covert pressures, it is working to establish Corporate Raj over the citizenry. For the first time since the exit of the East India Company, we are in danger of being ruled for the benefit of shareholders of private firms.


This dangerous metamorphosis in the substance of our democracy is currently taking shape in the guise of a new national policy to privatise water supply. Water, like air, is an essential prerequisite for life. It is intrinsic to the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution; any curtailment of the citizen’s right to water is an attack on the Right to Life.


UPA’s new National Water Policy draft, which proposes privatisation of water-delivery services and pricing of water to ‘fully recover’ costs of managing water resources projects, while abolishing subsidies to the agricultural and domestic sectors, is outrageous on many counts. Water is a natural resource which Nature has bestowed bountifully upon this nation. It has not been created by Government or Corporates; hence they cannot exercise monopoly control over it and market it as a factory product – for profit. It is the State’s duty to provide water for drinking, agricultural and other needs; a government that cannot do so must quit.


In urban areas, municipal bodies levy charges to cover costs of treating water and maintaining pipelines. But across the country, governments have done little or nothing to prevent or reduce the industrial pollution of pristine rivers and water bodies, with the result that drinking water has become scarce in both rural and urban areas.


Now, continuing its crusade to privatise lucrative public sector enterprises, the UPA wants to hand over a sovereign national resource like water to the private sector. As no household, rural or urban, can survive without water, this will immediately translate into billion-dollar profits for crony capitalists selected to overnight become Water Barons [no doubt with covert partnerships with politicians and bureaucrats]. As in the case of privatisation of electricity distribution, this will translate into unaffordable costs for helpless citizens, with little or no improvement in the country’s water management.


That water is a precious natural resource is inarguable. That government wants to disown responsibility for marshalling this critical resource, vital to human survival, now stands exposed. Before we allow this to happen, the government must explain why World Bank prescriptions, which have wrought immense misery wherever they have been applied, are being foisted on India.


If the rationale for reducing domestic and agricultural subsidies is to provide “subsidies and incentives” to the private sector for recycling and reusing treated effluents, then why can’t government itself use the released funds for treating effluents? Both water supply and treatment of effluents are primary State responsibilities. If the private sector claims it can do what the State can’t, it should not seek subsidies, incentives, cheap loans, etc. Let us see how many capitalists step forward in the absence of ‘sweetheart’ deals.


Providing water for irrigation is also a fundamental duty of the State; rulers from ancient times have taken care to provide this basic amenity. How dare the modern state fail? Who has created the water scarcity; can it be overcome?


The industrial sector is the largest user, waster, and polluter of water. Far from giving control over the nation’s water resources to such capitalists, stern steps need to be taken to curb the criminal use and abuse of water, in partnership with local communities. In Placimada village panchayat in Kerala, the entire community revolted against the pollution of its ground water by a multinational company. They were suppressed for years before they got justice; hence we need State and Judiciary to be more sensitive to people’s voices in matters of life and death. We also need to rationalise subsidies to the corporate sector as these are becoming far too liberal, with the burden being passed on to the common man.


A major source of ground water contamination is the decades of use of fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture, foisted on the nation in the name of higher productivity. The huge quantities of water required for such wasteful agriculture forced millions of farmers to invest in individual wells to irrigate their fields, causing sharp depletion and pollution of underground aquifers. It is a vicious circle.


The solution is not to withdraw subsidies for agriculture while maintaining them for jobless corporate growth. The solution is conserving water resources through genuine and efficient rainwater harvesting. Each calendar year, the nation receives enough water to replenish the underground water table. Yet, every year, funds allotted for rainwater harvesting disappear like village wells that are never dug and are reported as ‘stolen’ when a rare inspection takes place! If the UPA is serious about addressing the national water crisis, it should bring out a White Paper on Delhi’s record of water harvesting in just the last two decades, and ask all States to furnish similar reports. Much clarity will follow.


We must reconsider the trend of contractor-driven capital-intensive big dam projects when small, community-led, water-harvesting and watershed-development programmes can give better results in terms of sustainable development and preservation of water quality.


Large dams have created salinity in many places; induce seismicity; and fail in genuine cost-benefit analysis, especially if we include the costs of displacing and rehabilitating large numbers of people. The Tehri dam in UP is a colossal failure in terms of its stated objectives; it should be undone without further ado so that the Ganga can at least flow freely. There should also be utmost caution in interlinking interstate rivers, so as not to create new problems.


The State is a Trustee, not owner, of our natural resources; it must preserve and use them for public good. On no account can we permit a Government to tax us and allow Corporates to walk all over us.


The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com

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