Millennium Post

Watering down the constitution

The national Water Policy, discussed at a meeting of the National Water Resources Council headed by the prime minister on Wednesday, is controversial. There is little doubt that the country needs a new policy direction with reference to water resources.  In the last several decades, there has been over-exploitation of ground water, a drying of rivers and streams and an increase in water pollution all of which have severe consequences. However, the approach to the problem currently being discussed is not just far removed from the ground realities of the Indian water crisis but is also completely erroneous in some respects. For instance, though this policy does note that water is a natural resource, fundamental to life, livelihood, food security and sustainable development, contrarily it tends to treat water as an economic good with which goes the disturbing notion that pricing of water could be an instrument for regulating its use. This is a most unusual approach as water is a natural resource that should be available to all without the discriminatory distinctions of wealth. Equally disturbing is the notion that the private sector can be utilised through a public private partnership [PPP] mode to become a service provider if the states decide so. Such an approach fails to take into account that water is a common and public good whose management should ideally be through public utilities. Introducing the profit motive in the management of water resources is anti-people and pro-rich.  The draft policy has already been revised twice because of criticism that it overwhelmingly focussed more on privatisation and commercialisation and on industrial needs rather than the common good.

Also controversial is the suggestion that there should be an over-arching national legal framework on water. Though seemingly benign, this is, in fact, a serious encroachment on the rights of state governments. Water is a state subject according to the Indian constitution and any suggestion for a central legistation for it is illegal and completely unconstitutional. It can hardly be that the Congress-led UPA government at the centre is not aware of the provisions of the constitution. It is not a coincidence that, just recently, this government has attempted to foist the controversial National Investigation Agency upon state governments despite police being a state subject. These attempts at excessive centralisation, which seek a drastic alteration in the balance of powers between the states and the centre are a serious and dangerous attack on the constitution of India and its federal structure, which must be opposed. There is, therefore, more to the new national water policy than meets the eye.
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