Revised draft water policy allows for subsidy to the poor and in non-commercial farming

Public outcry against indiscriminate pricing of water and privatisation of water delivery services has forced the Centre to back off on both counts in its revised draft of the new national water policy, a copy of which is available with The Hindu.

The revised draft, that incorporates suggestions from the public as well as state governments, allows for subsidy to the poor and in non-commercial farming. The Hindu was the first to report the draft policy.

The new plan, which was considered at a day-long meeting of the National Water Board, comes after a majority of people and States like Punjab had opposed pricing of water and privatisation of services. The draft was posted on the Water Ministry's website for comments.

“More than 600 comments were received from the general public on the draft policy. Most of the people opposed pricing of water and privatisation of water-related services. These comments, along with newspaper reports, were considered by the Drafting Committee and it was felt some of the recommendations needed to be clarified,” the meeting was told.

The revised policy was broadly approved “with amendments” in the meeting on Thursday of the Board here that has top State administrators as members with the Water Resources Secretary as the chair.

States' reservations

Fearing infringement of their rights, some States expressed reservations on the proposal for having an overarching national legal framework as a basis for enacting legislation in ‘water governance.'

Some States opposed modification in the Indian Easements Act, 1882 that gives propriety rights to a land owner on groundwater under his/her land.

Although the idea of ‘maximising value from water' has been abandoned in the new policy, the natural resource will henceforth be treated as an economic good to promote its conservation and efficient use.

A Water Regulatory Authority is envisaged in each State to regulate and fix water charges. The charges will be determined on volumetric basis with Water Users Association given the responsibility to manage the distribution of water.

However, in keeping with the idea that “under-pricing” of electricity for irrigation purposes “is wasteful,” the new policy provides for setting up separate, dedicated electric feeder systems that are energised “for a limited time” for agriculture.

The Water Resources Ministry took on board several suggestions from the Planning Commission on the draft policy but rejected the idea of incorporating “water as a common pool resource” in the preamble.

The revised draft will now be considered for adoption at the National Water Resources Council meeting to be chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Chief Ministers as members.

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