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Privatization of water unconstitutional and a failed venture
By Rajinder Sachar
India is governed by written constitution and any policy decision, programme by the Central or the State government must be within the constitutional parameter of the constitution.

The State under our constitution is mandated to protect the Human Rights. Any Government policy which seeks to shift this responsibility from the State to the private sector would be, without anything more, unconstitutional and hence impermissible.

United Nations, since its inception, has accepted that water is a ‘human right’. In 2010, the General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring the Right to Water and Sanitation a human right. The Supreme Court has held that Article 21 of the constitution includes the human right of citizen to Water and Sanitation. In that view of the matter, per se, any proposal to privatise water would be unconstitutional. Is it not, therefore, a matter of concern that Indian State should be working towards privatising the water supply, which really amounts to abdicating its duty to enforce Human Rights. Ever since the National Water Policy 2002 was formulated, there have been attempts in India to privatise and commoditise water.

Water problem and its peculiarities in supply, distributions are all misdirected against the supply to the poor. I am, however, highlighting the position in Delhi, which is enforcing privatization of water supply policy which is meant to cater to the affluent at the cost of poor namely 70% of households in Delhi with a monthly per capital of expenditure of less than Rs. 1500, the poverty line accepted by the Planning Commission.

The whole exercise by Delhi government is to give exploitive profits to the private party. Thus, according to public information it costs Delhi Jal Board Rs. 15 per litre to obtain water – but it has agreed to supply the water to the private company at about Rs. 1.50 per litre. There is then further benefit to the Company by permitting an automatic annual increase by 10% in water billing by the private company. In the new tariff apart from water charges a sewage charge of 60% is also imposed, notwithstanding that the replacement, if any of the pipes will be by Delhi Jal Board. But most astounding is the introduction of service charges, apart from billing for water consumption. This service charge is shamefaced attempt to give extra money because the consumer is paying separately for consumption anyway. To see the unconsciensability of it, as an example, on a consumption charge of say Rs. 170, per month there will be added a service charge of Rs. 320. per month There is no explanation of what & how service charge can be imposed apart from consumption charges.

Another unabashed provision to favour private company is to divide colonies into District Metered Areas (DMAs), on the pretext that water would be provided to the DMAs by private companies at all times/days (24x7). But there is an ill conceived catch so as to benefit private companies, as the performance of the water company will be assessed not on the basis of whether water was received 24x7 water in every house or not, but on the basis of whether the water company provided 24x7 water at the input of each DMA or not. The water company can also divert water from one area to another within the same DMA. This would neither affect the performance of the company nor be treated as a violation of any of the license conditions. The water company will try to maximize revenues by diverting water to big hotels, industries etc, who would purchase water in bulk at higher revenues.

The Delhi Jal Board should be looking into more worthwhile function. It supplies 850 million gallons of drinking Water per day more than its installed capacity. Its treatment facility provides for only 5.4 million gallons a day – the rest of the untreated water is one of major sources of the pollution of Yamuna.

The Delhi government is inspired by the World Bank-supported 24x7 water supply pilot projects as, for example, in Hubli- Dharwad. But the Report of the Working Group on Urban Water Supply and Sanitation for the 12th Plan has pointed out that the initial project period was 2004-08 and was then extended to 2011. Reaching 10 per cent of the twin cities’ existing connections took 7 years.

Water privatization and other similar schemes to benefit Big Corporations are the brain child of World Bank. Though initially the countries succumbed to this pressure, the anger of the masses at the deprivation of life giving water to them and instead to benefit the Big Corporation has unleashed a world movement of re-municipalisations of the water supply in several cities, most notably Paris (which re-commenced with public water management in January 2010) due to cost-saving potential. The re-municipalisation got off to a promising start – Water tariffs were reduced by 8 percent in 2011. Two countries are making water privatization illegal: Uruguay, and the Netherlands. In both cases, the new laws prohibit not only the sale of water systems but also the delegating of the operation of water supply to private companies.

As recent as October 2012 many civil society organizations have protested to the President of European Commission to stop imposing the policy of privatization of Water. The newly formed municipal corporations in Delhi have also demanded that water supply be handed over to them. It is for legally impermissible Delhi Government to ignore the global trend towards re-municipalisation and to invite private companies to play a larger role in so essential a public utility as the supply and distribution of water. The so-called PPPs are a hardly concealed cover for public-private sharing of risk and profit such that there would be predominantly public risk and predominantly private profit.

A pervious attempt to privatize water was made in 2005; At that time August 2005 when World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz visited Delhi, he was confronted with vociferous protests against ‘the Bank’s policies and conditionalities of water privatization through the back door’ – a clear message of ‘Hands Off Water.’ Why is it being revived now – is the forthcoming elections in Delhi and the urgent need for getting big donations the real secret. Any continuance of water privatization policy will remain suspect.

(The author is Chief Justice (Retd.), High Court of Delhi, New Delhi and was Chairperson Prime Minister’s High Level Committee On Status of Muslims. He can be contacted at: rsachar1@
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News Updated at : Monday, December 3, 2012
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