[Reader-list] Fwd: Rationing water, or Rationing Human Rights ?

Nagraj Adve nagraj.adve at gmail.com
Sun Apr 24 16:48:22 IST 2011

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Saurav Datta <sauravdatta29 at gmail.com>
Date: 23 April 2011 14:09
Subject: Rationing water, or Rationing Human Rights ?


Rationing Water or Rationing Human Right

By S. Mohammed Irshad

23 April, 2011

The Planning Commission of India, vice chair man Montek Singh
Ahulwalia declare the one of the future policy initiatives of
Government of India i.e rationing of water, according to him "by water
rationing I don't mean that less water should be supplied, but that we
can price water so that people use water as per requirement. In India,
we have to pay for using energy but not water. A fee should be charged
for using water too. However, different slabs of this fee can be
formed,". He made this comments while referring the water problems of
Rajasthan state. There is absolutely no point of difference with those
who refer the water crisis of Rajasthan. Yet, the planning commission
vice chair men’s policy support seldom refer the importance of public
funded water governance projects. The whole debate is hovering around
rationing water accesses rather than any effective policy
implementation to ensure proper access to water. In India people have
been told by the government that universal rationing will not go due
to financial crisis. Universal rationing has been dropped and the
entire public distribution system in India is subjected to target
rationing. However, for rationing water is no way fit in to neither
targeted nor universal rationing system. The new concept of water
rationing even if at limited level would have far reaching impacts.

While government trying to implement rationing of water the UN
declares water as human rights; hence, any attempt on rationing or
denying access over water is the violation of human right. The
declaration said “today more than a billion people lack safe drinking
water and almost two and a half billion live without access to
sanitation systems. An estimated 14 to 39 thousand people mostly young
and elderly die every day from avoidable water-related diseases. If
current trends persist, by 2025 two-third of the world’s population
will be living with serious water shortage or almost not water at all
”(1). The report went on to say that “water is essentially to ensure
the continuance of life, and is intrinsically linked to other
fundamental human rights: water is necessary to produce food (rights
to adequate food), to ensure environmental hygiene (right to health),
for securing livelihood (rights to gain a living by work), to enjoy
certain cultural practices (rights to take in cultural life) etc. The
following demonstrates that numerous fundamental human rights can not
be fully realized without water.” a) Right to life, b) right to food,
c) right to self determination, d) right to adequate standard of
living, e) right to housing, f) right to education, g) right to
health, h) right to take part in cultural life, i) right to
sustainable working conditions”. “Human right to water is remain
imperfectly defined” (2)

There are three issues pertain to water rationing, first is
legitimization of the idea of water as an economic good to the poorest
of the poor, and second) defaming the struggle for water, and three)
privatization/controlling of water bodies. UN declares water is a
human right, however, international lending agencies considering water
as an economic good. The Doublin principle of 1992 endorses political
commitments regarding the involvement of government and community
towards institutional changes, the use of market economy, capacity
building etc. The principle declares;

• Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to
sustain life, development and the environment
• Water development and management should be based on a participatory
approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels
• Women play a central part in the provision, management and
safeguarding of water
• Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be
recognized as an economic good

However, in 1993, World Bank initiated drastic changes in water sector
lending . It advocates a comprehensive approach to water resources and
incentives for good management.

a) Maximize the contribution of water to countries’ economic, social,
and environmental development while ensuring that resource and water
services are managed sustainably.
b) Encourage and help countries to establish comprehensive analytical
frameworks to foster informed and transparent decision making with an
emphasis on demand management; and
c) Promote decentralized implementation process and market forces to
guide the appropriate mix of public and private sector provision of
water services.
The question of water rights has been critically challenged by these
international agencies and government. Infact, we generally assume
that every nation state has to accept the universal declaration of UN
agencies, however, the contemporary political economy persuade many
countries to override UN agencies declaration. Mr Aluwalia’s comment
is infact is an indication Indian government’s political will to
implement a market driven water policy. As said before, struggle for
water is increasingly becoming a crucial public policy crisis across
the world. In India rural water supply has been a problem owing to the
lack of public support to increase the connectivity. However,
community water supply schemes in rural areas initially give a hope to
the people who had been denied water by public water supply system,
later financial crisis pulled many community organsations pull back
from enjoying proper access to water . (3)

The present water supply system is having two mode of operation i.e.
public water supply with subsidy, community water supply with full
cost pricing and private sources. Governing water in tandem with
neo-liberalism is one of the unfinished tasks of government. Major
policy shift taking place in water sector is public private
partnership and price regulation, of which price regulation has not
been effectively implemented. Water tariffs have been increased in
many state water supply agencies, yet, it would not alone meet the
cost of water supply. Hence, government financing is an inseparable
component of water supply. The current policy of rationing water is
infact not for putting limitation on access to water; yet, it would
drastically redefine the concept of public ownership on basic sources.
Basic water sources like rivers and ponds are being targeted by global
water companies. No government across the world is able to assess the
raw material price of these resources; instead all these deals are
being protected by the managerial idea of fixing either royalty or
lease agreement. Technically no water companies are able to ensure the
sustainability of such sources. Infact the statement of Mr Aluwalia’s
has to be taken into account in this context. If we put the existing
rationing mechanism in water, there would be three markets would
arrive, a) Below Poverty Line, b) Above Poverty line and c) Private
market. First two components are come under public distribution system
and third would be a fully privatized water market. The privatization
of water is unfinished process unlike any other public utilities,
however the idea of rationing of water would gradually leads to
accessibility rationing. This is infact the major impediment on larger
water privatization.

The proposal of rationing needs to be discussed in this perspective.
The liberal strings of governance pull the government to implement
price mechanism to avoid huge public funding. Rationing of water is
the most effective administrative tool to reduce the public funding.
Reduction of quantity also increases the marketability of water.
Government imposed rationing necessitate control over public or
subsidized water supply system. Rationing or full cost price of water
leads to the legitamisaiotn of water privatization. UN declaration on
water was expected to influence the water governance on humanitarian
grounds; however, the UN declaration remains as an abstract idea. The
rationing of water infact rations the human right.


1. IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No 51
2. ibid
3.This argument is based on my PhD thesis. My study found that many
beneficiary committees had dropped their schemes owing to the lack of
financial capacity.

Saurav Datta
Ph (M) : +919820229683; +919930966518
IM:sauravdatta52 at hotmail.com
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give"
: Churchill.

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