Privatising water?

I got this information in an email from an NGO (Concerned for Working Children), thought that I’d pass it on. It’s a big long, but important, so here goes:

Water is the original source of life, that inescapable requirement of every living creature. That it be freely accessible to all is not simply a desirable situation, but an unquestionable one promised to all citizens in India through our Constitution.

However, in Bangalore, moves are being made to ensure that this access is limited to only those who can afford to pay for it. The Greater Bangalore Water Supply and Sanitation Project, currently being implemented by the Government of Karnataka with an uncharacteristic zeal, is slated to privatise the distribution of water in 8 Municipalities of the city. This project is but a backdoor entry into the whole of the city and eventually every teeming metropolis in the country. It has been designed to put into the hands of a few mega-corporations, the critical task of distributing water to every nook and cranny of the areas under its purview.

Whilst mega MNCs can be trusted with delivering toothpastes and cars with efficient speed and quality, empowering them with the license to make profits off a life-sustaining requirement like water is scary to say the least. The regular price hikes to which we are accustomed for consumer products will become the norm for ensuring that water continues to run through our taps. Try negotiating with HLL about the price of their latest skin cream or hair gel, all you will find is tall walls and closed gates that do not encourage consumer participation. Whilst cosmetics can be passed over, water certainly cannot. And there is no choice, the only option you will have is to pay at the rate they prescribe or lose your connection.

Sure, the government is inefficient. Sure, it is corrupt. But, at present, it remains our sole democratic route to ensuring that water is available for everyone’s use and no-one’s abuse. If enough of us get out of our living rooms and demand for efficient delivery of all government services, a change in government temperament will be palpable.

But privatisation shuts down these routes once and for all. It commercialises a natural resource which belongs to nobody and hence, everybody. The impact of this adventure on the poor does not require a big imagination to appreciate. The income that they would otherwise spend on educating their children or building pucca houses would be diverted into purchasing water. Many would not be able to afford, leaving them with polluted sources of water that will lead to life-threatening diseases.

Experiences of privatisation in other countries have led to riots and social unrest due to this criminal denial of this basic need and right of the poor. In South Africa, 300 people died due to infected drinking water after privatisation. In India, with the ever-increasing numbers of urban poor, the results could be catastrophic. Don’t the poor, including the people who build our houses, wash our clothes, clean our homes and take care of our kids, have enough obstacles in their way to leading a half way decent life without the Government installing yet another one.

Recently in Chennai, the government made it compulsory to construct rainwater harvesting structures in every building after the city faced an unprecedented water shortage. Two years later, the groundwater levels in Chennai have risen substantially. Very recently, in Delhi, the residents waged a ferocious battle against the privatisation of water supply. In the Delhi case, the officials of the Delhi Jal Board (equivalent to BWSSB) were found to be completely powerless in the face of mounting evidence of the unviability of the privatisation scheme. It was like they were jumping into a well, eyes wide open. Given the amount of control a private player is likely to yield over all matters regarding water if privatisation were to occur, the government would have no say in any policy of water management. If a similar critical depletion of resources were to take place in Bangalore, who would act responsibly – the government or the private player?

Why is the government privatising essential services? Because, it clams, it does not have the resources to perform its duties. So what happens to all the taxes we pay? And why do we need the Government if they cannot do even this?

I’ve moved this part out of the ‘quote’ because there are links, etc. And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

It is possible to make our opinion known to the government by exercising our right to protest in the face of any policy we do not agree with. We can do one or all of the following:

Write to the Chief Minister of Karnataka:
Shri H D Kumaraswamy
Chief Minister,
Vidhana Soudha
Bangalore- 560 001.
email: cm@kar.nic.in

Write letters to the editors of major newspapers:

The Times of India
lettersbg@indiatimes.com

The New Indian Express
bngletters@epmltd.com

Deccan Herald
letters@deccanherald.co.in

The Hindu
letters@thehindu.co.in

Participate in protests being organized throughout the city opposing this move. You can subscribe to the yahoo group against water privatisation ( india-water-subscribe@yahoogroups.com ) to learn about the latest protests.

For those of you still not convinced of the dangers of water privatisation, check out the following website:
The Water Barons: Centre for Public Integrity

Interesting Links to learn more about water privatisation in India and abroad:
Delhi’s Struggle against water privatisation

Bangalore’s Struggle against water privatisation

Selling piped water or pipe dreams? (India Together)

Overview of struggle over water resources in India

PS: I’m assuming that it’s okay to “pass” the email on to my readers. All copyrights rest with the respective authors.

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2 thoughts on “Privatising water?

  1. Check out whats happening with the sources of water – Bellandur, Varthur lakes serves huge areas – and soakpits now!

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