Formation of Kerala Drinking Water Supply Company Ltd.

On April 9, Ponnath Devarajan, city councillor for Marad, a communally sensitive fishing hamlet that faces water shortage, moved a resolution before the Kozhikode Corporation Council against a government order for forming Kerala Drinking Water Supply Company Ltd.

He said the company, described by the Water Resources Department in its December 31, 2012, order as one modelled after Cochin International Airport Ltd., was a sheer effort to commodify water, a natural resource and public asset.

The December order gave the State government and the Kerala Water Authority (KWA), separately, only 49 per cent equity in the company, while the “private sector” had the majority 51 per cent shares.

The council unanimously passed Mr. Devarajan’s motion, saying the government should retain control of potable water supply, including public water taps.

Revised order

Hardly a week later, on April 15, the Water Resources Department “revised” the December executive order, owing to “allegations that the government of Kerala is attempting to privatise the drinking water supply system in the State.”

“Apprehensions have been raised about the objects and the shareholding pattern of the proposed company. Doubts have been raised whether the role of the KWA will be minimised, and the new company will take over,” the order read.

“We have drastically changed the December 31, 2012, order. The April 15 order confines the authority of the company only to supply drinking water in bottles at minimal rates and also via water tankers,” V.J. Kurian, Additional Chief Secretary, Water Resources Department, told The Hindu. He had signed both the executive orders.

Suspect

But environmentalists such as A. Achuthan find this version suspect. He said the April 15 order was only the first step towards realising the December order.

He pointed to how the order reiterated the administrative sanction accorded to the company, and how the share patterns had hardly changed – the State government and the KWA still retained only 49 per cent equity. While the December order gave 51 per cent blanket equity to the “private sector,” the April one altered the equity and distributed the 51 per cent among “firms, individuals, beneficiary groups, residents’ associations, local bodies, etc.”

However, there were no restrictions on the nature of the firms, beneficiary groups, or individuals involved.

The April 15 order said that “large-scale usage” of packaged drinking water in urban areas supplied by dominant “private sector players” at exorbitant prices and increased dependence on water tankers operated by “unscrupulous people” necessitated the setting up of the company.

“There is not a word in both the orders on conservation of water. The government orders signal a change in perspective on water, a creation of scarcity and demand. Both orders propagate the mindset that water has to come from somewhere, whether in tankers or bottles. It has to be sourced from mega companies that have large storage facilities… All this, when water is right under your feet,” Mr. Achuthan said.

Enhanced role

The April order said the KWA’s role would be enhanced to ensure that piped water supply reached every household in the State by 2021 and 75 per cent households by 2018. Besides, no water sources of the KWA would be touched.

“If all they want from the company is to supply drinking water bottles at nominal rates, the KWA has already begun construction of a bottled drinking water facility at Aruvikkara. Why should you go for this company when the KWA already has the expertise, infrastructure and resources available and ready… it’s just common sense,” N.K Premachandran, former Water Resources Minister, said.

He said this was a case of executive orders overriding existing laws and accepted public policy such as the Kerala Water Supply and Sewerages Act, 1986, and the water policy of 2008, respectively.

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