Apex court specifies that air, water, sea and forests cannot be with private sector

A social republic like India cannot have water in private ownership and deny the citizens their right to quality water at affordable prices, said Justice Rajinder Sachar in New Delhi on Tuesday, criticising the Delhi Government’s move to undertake three public-private partnership projects in the city.

Speaking at a conference on “Water Privatisation: Learning from India and International Experiences”, Justice Sachar said: “There is nothing above the Constitution. The Preamble says India is a secular, socialist, Republic…and handing over ownership of water to private companies is cheating the Constitution.”

He said the Government is obliged to adhere to the Supreme Court guidelines that have specified several times that air, water, sea and forests cannot be under private ownership. He disapproved of the Delhi Government’s move to rope in private companies for doing work that is the State’s responsibility.

Rebutting the Government claims that PPP will usher in changes in the water sector, Jammu Anand, an employee of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation Employees Union, cited the example of Nagpur where privatisation and the promise of 24x7 water supply has not shown any positive results.

“Before the privatisation exercise the Government claimed there was 50 per cent non-revenue water and 45 per cent leakages. They said the Government is in a financial crisis, not capable of arresting these faults and the municipality does not have the political will to do so. Today the leakages are still 30 per cent and no one knows why,” he said.

Mr. Anand said the Government shrewdly chose a place for the pilot project in Nagpur that did not have a major water problem.

Also speaking at the conference organised by the Citizens’ Front for Water Democracy, Focus on the Global South, PEACE, Delhi Journalists’ Association, WS&SDEU and Water Workers’ Alliance, Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People said the move to have a Water Resources Regulatory Authority that will among other things serve to decide the tariffs needs to be opposed as well. PPPs are being encouraged, he said, adding the only state in India which has a water regulatory authority is Maharashtra, where it has been a failure.

“Post-Independence the biggest water scam is in Maharashtra where Rs.75,000 crore has been shown spent on irrigation in the past 10 years but in reality not one hectare has been irrigated,” he said.

S. A. Naqvi of the Citizens’ Front for Water Democracy said despite evidence of privatisation not being a success globally, India is keen on moving ahead with privatisation in almost all sectors from energy to water. “Privatisation is a failed model, yet India is pushing forwards towards it. The Government, it seems, is distancing itself from its responsibility.”

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