The new draft National Water Policy (NWP) circulated by the Ministry of Water Resources to water experts suggests that the government is poised to withdraw from its responsibilities of water service delivery, and that multinational corporations and financial institutions might have too big a say in water allocation and policy.
At first glance, it appears as if the policy takes a holistic approach to water resources management, with a clear recognition of India’s water woes. It accords pre-emptive priority for safe and clean drinking water and sanitation to all and prioritises meeting the water requirements for ecosystems.
However, a closer look shows that some important points are missing. To begin with, water is not articulated strongly enough as a fundamental human right in this draft. This is despite India voting in favour of the United Nations General Assembly resolution on Right to Water, in 2010. But there are various suggestions to institutionalise the treatment of water as an economic good. In addition, the draft NWP proposes to limit the role for government in public services. When in other parts of the world water services are being brought back into public realm due to negative experiences with private sector water provision, this policy suggests that the government should function simply as a service facilitator, and that service delivery should be handed over to local communities or the private sector.
Crisis and conservation
While such proposals are not new, what is new is that these policies are justified in the name of dealing with the water crisis and in the name of conservation!
The draft also recommends “full cost recovery” of water used as the means for achieving efficient use of water. While full cost recovery will help meet the costs of water delivery, it does not deter water use among those who can afford to pay. In that sense it works particularly against lower income groups, and groups that use water for activities that have low economic returns. Full cost recovery needs to be accompanied by protection of the right to water for basic needs, including that for basic livelihood strategies.