Water crisis and the neo-liberal privatization agenda

(Dr. krishan Bir Chaudhary)

If all the world’s water could be contained in a one litre bottle, fresh water would represent about two drops; barely 2.5% of world’s water is fresh water. Of this 70% is frozen in Antarctica and Greenland ice caps. Barely one percent of total freshwater is available for human consumption. These are stored in lakes, ponds, underground aquifers, streams and rivers, easily and cheaply accessible. 

The per capita availability of fresh water in India was estimated at 1,729 cubic meters per inhabitant per year during 2003-07, showing decline of 27% since 1983-87.   

In India agriculture is often blamed for consuming 84% of fresh water. Under the neo-liberal regime, the sectors that show higher GDP contribution are given more weight. Since agriculture contributes far less, every policy maker is quick to blame our hapless farmers for drawing too much ground water and wasting it. It never occurs to them that today every river, including our holy Ganges, is severely contaminated from untreated urban sewage and industrial effluents.

The pressure on water resources comes from population growth and decline of ecosystems, particularly the Himalayan ecosystem. Deforestation of large areas in the Himalayas and the Deccan plateau has turned many perennial rivers seasonal and many seasonal rivers have dried up as witnessed over the past two decades across the Himalayan foothills.

The per capita daily drinking water need has been estimated at 3 litres per day [Gov of India; Rajeev Gandhi Drinking Water Mission] Applying this rule of the thumb, India would require 1.2 billion x 3 litres=3.6 billion litres of drinking water every day.  Add to that water needs for cooking, washing, bathing, the total household requirement is assessed at 40 litres per capita per day which means 48 billion litres per day. Today 377 million Indians live in cities and that means that 15,000 million litres of water is required every day for urban India.

Instead of tackling the problem at ecosystem level and raising awareness for water conservation, this government wants to privatize water resources. This sort of response needs to be debated particularly in the light of the decision of the Honourable Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court in the matters of the WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 423 OF 2010 with WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 10 OF 2011 in the infamous spectrum allocation scam dated 2012, has defined ‘natural resource’ and clarified the role of the State. It raised a fundamental question: ‘Whether the Government has the right to alienate, transfer or distribute natural resources/national assets otherwise than by following a fair and transparent method consistent with the fundamentals of the equality clause enshrined in the Constitution?’ [Pages 1 and 2 of the judgment]

The detailed clarification, citing past judgments of various courts in similar matters and the Constitutional provisions are given in pages 68 to 75 and the main points are: “It must be noted that the constitutional mandate is that the natural resources belong to the people of this country…

It is thus the duty of the Government to provide complete protection to the natural resources as a trustee of the people at large…. the solemn duty of the State to protect the national interest and natural resources must always be used in the interest of the country and not private interests…….. the State and/or its agencies/instrumentalities cannot give largesse to any person according to the sweet will and whims of the political entities and/or officers of the State…..

Appearance of public justice is as important as doing justice. Nothing should be done which gives an appearance of bias, jobbery or nepotism.”

No society has benefited from privatization of water. The manipulation of accessibility to this vital resource is so pernicious that in poor countries like Kenya water is more expensive than alcoholic drinks like beer.

Such moves will deny fundamental right of access to natural resource and that is against the principles of natural justice. Such moves should be summarily rejected.


(Editorial : Kisan Ki Awaaz Magazine)