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Water is not a luxury item

Corporatisation of water supply will further reduce its availability to people. Atul Sehgal writes.

india Updated: May 15, 2012 22:27 IST

The Union government has recently brought out a draft national water policy for enhancing the efficiency of utilisation and disposal of water in the country. But the draft policy is inconsistent with best water management practices.


The Draft National Water Policy 2012 does not focus on the dire need of usage of water in tune with nature’s water recycling mechanism. The policy paper talks of water as a community resource, but flippantly points at an economically viable cost of water supply based on realistic tariffs.

Water is proposed to be made available on cost-plus basis thus covering the entire cost of operating and maintaining the collection, storage and supply systems. The corporatisation of water supply is going to further reduce the availability of water for ordinary people in India.

Right now, drought-like situation prevails in several pockets of Maharashtra with many irrigation projects remaining incomplete. With the summer on, water reservoirs in several other states too are fast depleting.

India is home to 17% of the world’s population and is endowed with only 4% of global fresh water. According to a study on the global water scenario by international consultancy group McKinsey in collaboration with the World Bank-affiliate International Finance Corporation, India is in for a major water shortage. The situation will be dire as water demand will grow annually by 2.8% to reach a whopping 1,500 billion cubic metres (bcm) while supply is projected at only about 744bcm, that is, just half the demand, the report says.

So it is of paramount importance that the national water policy be blueprinted on the basis of our age-old, traditional approach and practice which is environment-friendly and time-tested. The construction of ponds and natural reservoirs and their maintenance could form one component of this policy. We may also consider harnessing the ocean for the needs of our teeming millions as India has a huge sea coastline.

Our water policy should be pragmatic, environment-friendly and in tune with the grassroots needs of the consumers. It should contain strong deterrents against water pollution.

In accordance with the fundamental premise of natural resources being available rightfully to all human beings according to their basic physical needs, we need to make new laws and regulations to ensure the provision of clean drinking water and need-based non-potable water for all our citizens directly by the State. This should have no room for traders, hoarders or profiteers.

In the context of the proposed privati-sation of potable water production and distribution, we should understand that the very core and crux of private industry is profiteering. Water is not a luxury item — it’s a basic necessity and every human being ushered into this world is at once entitled by nature to his quota of water.

It is the State’s responsibility to make it available in the best possible manner. Water is neither an item which should be taxed nor a commodity which should be traded. Taxing or trading this item amounts to denigrating nature and this goes against the Indian ethos.

Atul Sehgal is a senior infrastructure consultancy business professional

The views expressed by the author are personal