Millennium Post

Do not privatise water

The Delhi government's move to privatise the distribution of water is hasty, ill-conceived and wrong. It has been too quick in taking this decision and, in a first step in this process, in deciding to privatise water treatment plants in the city, shortlisting four multinational firms for the purpose. Earlier, in last November, the government had taken the decision, despite opposition, for the restructuring of the Delhi Jal Board through the involvement of the private sector in the water distribution, management and maintenance of infrastructure in key parts of Delhi. The project of privatisation of water in Delhi is likely to have a deleterious impact, with the city already having suffered from the consequences of the privatisation of the power supply which was followed by a steep hike in power tariffs. Water supply in the capital will needlessly become more costly in a move that is only likely to benefit private companies, that too, of foreign origin. The result will be that the poor will not be able to afford the water and only better-off consumers and commercial users will not feel the pinch. Thus, the inequitable and discriminatory distribution of water in the city, which already exists, will be exacerbated. It is true that the national capital has a water problem. There is scarcity of potable water in the city, which needs at least 600 mega gallons of water but gets only about 600 mega gallons or even less. There are problems in getting an adequate amount of potable water to each resident, who suffers as a consequence, particularly in the hot and dry months.

No doubt, there are problems, particularly relating to efficiency, with the Delhi Jal Board. This is not to suggest that all the water problems in the city stem from a managerial crisis that can be solved merely by a shift in the management model, towards one that favours private ownership. The water problems in the city are also the result of far more complex factors, such as the arrangements for the supply of water from neighbouring states, and of sustaining the quality and quantity of groundwater, among others. These are complex tasks easiest for the government to manage. There are good reasons for public utilities to be owned by the government and controlled by public authorities. Water is a necessary resource that is best thought to be under state control for social reasons and for a public purpose. The people have a right to be delivered water at reasonable rates. The experience of other countries, where water has been privatised, has not been happy and has left a trail of disaster behind. The state must not abdicate its responsibility to provide citizens with water. The decision to privatise the management of water in the city should be rolled back.
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