In the past three months, two major things happened in the water front—the release of the Draft Water Policy 2012 in January and the India Water Week held last week in Delhi.
In both, the UPA government has made oblique, veiled reference to corporatising water. While Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal at the meet made a grandiose declaration that water will not be auctioned, the Planning Commission Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia gave a call to the farmers to produce more using less water. The Prime Minister also alluded to pricing the water ‘right’ to ensure it is not wasted.
Bansal’s remark came as a response to the Supreme Court order on 2G, where it said the national resources should not be given away but auctioned. Water, unlike the minerals and the spectrum, is not merely a national resource; it is an essential requirement for life. A divine gift. Giving control of it, even partly into private hands would create havoc. We explained this in an edit earlier (Organiser, dtd November 20, 2011).
The draft policy as some social activists have pointed out, clearly favours privatisation. It advocates the withdrawal of the government from the role of “service provider” and gradually shift to being a mere facilitator, leaving the field open for “citizens/and or private” players. This is nothing different from the IMF-World Bank sponsored ideology of commercialising water. The draft policy wants water to be “treated as an economic good…priced to promote efficient use and maximising value…” which when translated means that water would be a commodity which can be bought by those who have the means.
According to statistics, only 29 per cent of Indian households have access to tap water, and even then in the majority of cases only for several hours a day. The other 71 per cent of households obtain their daily water supply by making long and exhausting treks to wells, streams and rivers, while in urban areas they must wait for a water truck to arrive.
The Congress Party in as far back as 1998 gave away 23-km stretch of the Sheonath river in Madhya Pradesh (now Chhatisgarh) to a company called Radius Water Ltd. (RWL) to build a dam and reservoir on the Sheonath River for supplying water to the Borai industrial estate. The local population has ever since lost access to water in the river in that stretch. This happened when Digvijay Singh was Chief Minister. What a sham it is? Privatisation of water has been introduced in various other pockets in India on an experimental basis. If they have their way politicians are capable of selling away every thing.
If the draft water policy is adopted, as was being pushed in the India Water Week, it will shove millions of farmers in the country further into a vortex of poverty, where agriculture will no longer be a viable livelihood. The effect the policy would have on the poor cannot be overemphasised. One can only plead and hope for saner brains in the government to prevail upon the capitalist predators.