Water Privatisation

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In his argument against granting India her Independence, Sir Winston Churchill had ominously said, “Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low caliber & men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air & water would be taxed in India."

It has taken only 64 years for this prophetic statement to come true... Today our water is taxed. What is more scary is that our water is allowed to be owned by private corporates. Water, which might have been a cloud, a part of the ocean or the river, in our plants or as dew drops, or as sweat of people and which filters into our water tables can today be owned by corporates?

We are part of a generation that holds immense faith in market forces and allow ourselves to be subdued by the same. It has become globally acceptable to treat water as a commodity, which can be bottled, branded and bartered. Now a multinational organization threatens to deny our constitutional right to water.

In the month of February, there was a campaign in Bangalore against the continuing support of the Government of Karnataka to the ‘Policy of Commoditisation and Privatization of Water’ by a broad coalition of NGOs and individuals under the banner of ‘People’s Campaign for Right to Water’.

Agencies connected with the Urban Development Ministry of Karnataka, such as the Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (KUIDFC), Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Board (KUWSSB) and Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) are actively preparing to receive a delegation of 16 American Corporations.

These Corporations are advocating that water resources that are allocated to the agricultural sector be minimized as part of water conservation efforts and are intending to exploit business opportunities to provide safe water for personal consumption and for industrial use. All this is considered a part of the intention to capture the proclaimed US$50 billion water market in India.

The Mission Statement of the US Water Trade Mission to India 2011, which backs this visit, intends to exploit opportunities that “bypass the inadequate municipal system” so that “US water and waste-water technology companies initiate and/ or expand their exports to India... (and) find best opportunities in sanitation, urban water supply improvement, rainwater capture, and municipal waste treatment.” In this way the Trade Mission doesn’t take our Constitution or constitutionally-elected bodies seriously.

The Campaigners met with Mr. Suresh Kumar, Urban Development Minister and senior officials from KUIDFC and BWSSB on 23 February 2011. In this meeting, Shri. Kumar categorically stated that he was opposed to privatization of water, also asserting that the ‘Karnataka Government would never allow commoditization and privatization of drinking water.’

Politicians have often been clever with words. In a recent blog post on this topic, Mr. Kumar attempts to distinguish between privatization of water and private participation, stating that the latter must be considered if a ‘quality service’ needs to be provided to society. Reading between the lines, one wonders how long it would be before private corporate organizations assume control under the guise of ‘participation’.

Where is the Public?

When the government intends to take up private partnerships, it is turning itself into a  corporation seeking business opportunities. In this case, its ‘capital’ is our tax money. This then automatically gives the public absolute right to participate and decide (even without constitutional rights). Why has there been no public hearing invited by the government on such decisions? Thanks to a sensible minister like Mr. Jairam Ramesh, who set the precedent to involve the public, there has been at least a moratorium (if not a ban) on issues such as the introduction of Bt Brinjal. How can such decisions about the commons be taken without the participation of us citizens, who are the financiers in this case?

Even if in some sense the urban populations were to gain through better service and  infrastructure, the markets would still undermine the rights of farming communities and others dependent on these water resources. Let us not forget that water  is the single major variable resource for 70% of our population.

What can we do?

For further details you can contact anyone of the following members of the Peoples Campaign: Rajendran Prabhakar - 9449820566, Issac Arul Selva - 9480452037, Kshithij Urs- 9845452242, Leo Saldana of ESG
Minister’s blog: http://nimmasuresh.blogspot.com/2011/02/privatisation-of-water-needless....