ADB-funded drinking water project, proposed for Kerala, puts CITU and LDF government at loggerheads

Sign of budding rift evident at convention organised in Kochi under the joint aegis of all trade unions that demanded that the Kerala Urban Water Services Improvement Project be scrapped

Updated - July 09, 2024 11:23 pm IST

Published - July 09, 2024 07:11 pm IST - KOCHI

CITU State general secretary Elamaram Kareem and INTUC State president R. Chandrasekharan at a protest meeting jointly organised by various trade unions against the reported move to privatise the Kerala Water Authority.

CITU State general secretary Elamaram Kareem and INTUC State president R. Chandrasekharan at a protest meeting jointly organised by various trade unions against the reported move to privatise the Kerala Water Authority. | Photo Credit: R.K. Nithin

The proposed Asian Development Bank-funded Kerala Urban Water Services Improvement Project (KUWSIP) has opened up a potential warfront between the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government.

The first phase of the project is set to be implemented in Kochi. The sign of the budding rift was evident at a convention organised in Kochi on Tuesday under the joint aegis of all trade unions that demanded that the project be scrapped. The convention was inaugurated by CITU State general secretary Elamaram Kareem, who is also a central committee member of the CPI(M). Mr. Kareem sought to oppose the project while not appearing to be training guns on the LDF government.

He put the blame squarely on the Kerala Water Authority (KWA), an autonomous body under the State government. Mr. Kareem said the project was the brainchild of the KWA and not the government. The KWA did not comply with the State government’s policy, and it was not clear whether there was a decision at the department level, he said. Mr. Kareem also accused KWA officials of being driven by vested interests.

He, however, demanded that the State government and the KWA abandon what he dubbed as an attempt at privatising drinking water supply while egging on trade unions to launch a joint protest for the same. The Water Resources Minister and officials should heed the voice of trade unions and consult them to reach an amicable solution, said Mr. Kareem.

Warning of far-reaching consequences in going ahead with the privatisation project in the drinking water sector, Mr. Kareem drew parallels with how private players in the telecom sector, after luring customers with low fares, had hiked fares after they monopolised the field. “What if the private company concerned approached the court and won a favourable verdict in dictating terms, including fares, in drinking water supply,” he asked.

Presiding over the convention, Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) State president R. Chandrasekharan called upon the government to consider the political stance of the ruling party while taking policy decisions. He urged the government not to blindly follow suggestions made by bureaucrats influenced by the perception that opening up all sectors to corporate giants was the assured path to development.

Accepting funding by a foreign agency in drinking water supply will reduce the government to a spectator in dispute resolution. Under the ADB-funded project, arbitration over drinking water supply in Kochi has to take place before a tribunal in Singapore. By no means should the KWA accept foreign conditionality, said Mr. Chandrasekharan.

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