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India lauded for resisting water privatisation

india Updated: Oct 07, 2006 10:46 IST
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A leading American consumer protection group, describing privatisation as a "seductive option", has commended India for turning down water privatisation in the face of pressure from the World Bank.

"New Delhi should be commended for turning down water privatisation," an official of Boston-based Corporate Accountability International said in a letter published on Friday in the New York Times commenting on a piece on India's water crisis.

"Water systems cost a lot of money to maintain and more to improve. Meanwhile, governments are under tremendous pressure from the World Bank to decrease budget deficits, and balancing competing water demands is a politically difficult feat," wrote Kelle Louaillier, associate director of the group.

"By outsourcing water problems to corporations, public officials often hope to cut government spending while distancing themselves from conflicts among constituents about who should get how much water.

"Here's the catch: It doesn't matter to corporations who gets the water as long as they can charge someone for it. Many privatisation schemes have failed to deliver and have made things even worse by raising rates and cutting off access," he said.

"New Delhi's problems are daunting. Rejecting water privatisation, and strengthening democratic institutions to better manage the people's water, is a critical first step," Louaillier said.

In a story last week the influential US daily had said that India's water crisis, decades in the making, has grown as fast as India in recent years with a soaring population, the warp-speed sprawl of cities, and a vast and thirsty farm belt having all put new strains on a feeble, ill-kept public water and sanitation network.

The combination has left water all too scarce in some places, contaminated in others and in cursed surfeit for millions who are flooded each year.

Today the problems threaten India's ability to fortify its sagging farms, sustain its economic growth and make its cities healthy and habitable. At stake is not only India's economic ambition but its very image as the world's largest democracy, the Times said.

Conflicts over water mirror the most vexing changes facing India: the competing demands of urban and rural areas, the stubborn divide between rich and poor, and the balance between the needs of a thriving economy and a fragile environment, it said.

The World Bank warned in a report published in October 2005 that India stood on the edge of "an era of severe water scarcity".

"Unless dramatic changes are made - and made soon - in the way in which government manages water," the World Bank report concluded, "India will have neither the cash to maintain and build new infrastructure nor the water required for the economy and for people".

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