The move to privatise water is a rash attempt to commoditise nature and quash human rights, says Gajanan Khergamker
That the World Bank has long advocated privatisation of public utilities is a given. Bank-funded projects run by European and American multi-nationals are being implemented in countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
However, there is overwhelming evidence of the World Bank-funded water supply projects turning disastrous particularly in Tanzania, Colombia and the Philippines. The companies triggered huge tariff hikes, denied water to the poor and diverted water to “luxury resorts and golf courses and reaped exorbitant profits.”
As public sentiments simmered and began to spill over in the form of protests, the MNCs fled most of the countries, leaving behind marooned utilities, state exchequers tottering with unpaid loans and huge infrastructure losses. Making things worse, they went ahead and extracted redress invoking contractual clauses imposed by the World Bank. Not surprisingly, the policies were rolled back everywhere in the world where privatisation had mushroomed particularly during the Thatcher era.
Back home, in a sad repeat, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has warned the Centre against privatising the nation’s water resources by implementing the National Water Policy, 2012.
They have asserted that they “would not allow the Central Government to play into the hands of multinational players who are trying to privatise water conservation and distribution system in the country.
There are some private companies who are lobbying hard to bring in this policy. “Should the Centre succumb to their pressure, we will launch a mass agitation against this,” maintained RSS Northeast coordinator Dr Umesh Chakraborty. “If this policy is implemented, the agricultural sector in the country will be adversely affected. Common people will be hit hard,” said Chakraborty at a recent conference. RSS has passed the resolution to protest this policy in the meeting of the Akhil Bhartiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS) held at Nagpur. “We are opposed to this policy and will fight against its implementation,” added Dr Chakraborty.
It may be pertinent to refer to a battle fought against the World Bank and Delhi Jal Board (DJB) back in 2005 when RTI activist and social reformer Arvind Kejriwal through his non-governmental organisation (NGO) ‘Parivartan’ led a campaign against privatisation of water.
Under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, he obtained 9,000 pages of documents pertaining to correspondence between the World Bank and DJB of biddings, DJB’s correspondence with state and central government as well as reports of various consultants.
The documents revealed the DJB had initialy approached World Bank in 1998 for a loan to upgrade its water utility services to Delhi. The bank suggested DJB hire a multi-national consultant who would ‘suggest’ basic reforms for the DJB and offered a $2.5 million loan to hire the consultant.
The total budget of the DJB was Rs 168 crore about 60 per cent of the money would be spent on salaries on foreign consultants. Roughly estimated, this would lead to nine times increase in water tax for Delhites. The documents extracted under RTI further revealed how the World Bank arm-twisted DJB to favour a particular multi-national company.
In an attempt to legitimise the entire privatisation spree, the ministry of water resources has been undertaking public consultations across India to formulate the New Water Policy. The draft policy being circulated quite oddly too, lays emphasis on privatisation of water services. The slant is dangerous to say the least.
The draft National Water Policy is perceived as encouraging privatisation of water supply services and gives liberty to private operators to “fully recover” operational and administrative costs, The move would inevitably hike water rates for the end consumer. It indicates the government seems set to shrug off its responsibility of being a service provider for water and instead places the onus on private operators.
The National Water Policy 2002’s Section 13 states: “Private sector participation should be encouraged in planning, development and management of water resources projects for diverse uses, wherever feasible. Private sector participation may help in introducing innovative ideas, generating financial resources and introducing corporate management and improving service efficiency and accountability to users. Depending upon the specific situations, various combinations of private sector participation, in building, owning, operating, leasing and transferring of water resources facilities, may be considered.”
As profit-driven development continues to spur the entire world into moving to a rather ambiguous future, vital resources necessary for dignified human living are being threatened. The craze for profits is forcing authority to convert all natural resources into commodities.
Indian and foreign MNCs seem set to force developing countries; to identify every drop of water and commoditise the natural resources and allow corporate capture for sale to ensure the highest profits.
The move grossly violates human rights and natural laws. But India and the Karnataka seem bent on water privatisation. Almost reducing the government to a regulating agency, the State wishes to literally hand over the waters to private companies. And, this despite the entities failing to meet even the basic standards of quality and equity in water supply as evidenced in Mysore, Hubli-Dharwad, Gulbarga and Belgaum where water has been privatised.
Here, corporates, bureaucrats and politicians lie blatantly before people and the world at large that privatisation is a success and the government has no capacity to provide clean and safe drinking water to citizens.
Undoubtedly, there’s a systematic attempt among the administration and the media to mislead the masses into believing that the corporatisation of water is a good move. The Karnataka Urban drinking water and sanitation policy of 2003 and the National Water Policy of 2012 are charged with “quashing prudent, traditional notions, practices and cultures to the wind to blindly promote privatisation-corporatisation of our waters.”
The experiences of several of Karnataka’s cities is evidence that water privatisation is economically unviable, ecologically unsustainable and socially wrong. The current policies have totally disregarded this reality.
Across the world, particularly in in South America, Africa, South-East Asia even Europe where corporate water supply has been tried and failed, they’ve reverted to re-municipalisation. People across the world are demanding a ban on all forms of privatisation in the water sector but there are huge corporate interests which are at stake and will continue to manipulate situations to promote their devious agenda.
It happens to be the onus of the State to preserve the natural resource, teach its communities to use it equitably and judiciously and transfer it to the next generations. Promoting commoditisation, commercialisation and privatisation of water against peoples' sovereignty isn’t fair at all.
The Draft National Water Policy 2012 directly favours the privatisation of water delivery services and suggests water be priced leading to huge opposition from the public. It is widely felt that considering the youth is already not interested in farming, the policy could cause a collapse in the entire agricultural sector. The state is bound to provide good drinking water to its citizens and ordinary public will be affected adversely if water is priced.
Also, when examined against the Right to Life and the corresponding right of access to clean, drinking water, it’s irrefutably and solely the state’s responsibility.
National uproar opposes move for water privatisation
Online Links for Arvind Kejriwal’s campaign against privatisation of water in Delhi.
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