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Odisha: Activists appeal Chief Minister to oppose the Draft National Water Policy 2012

 

Monday June 09, 2014

WATER INITIATIVES ODISHA, WIO, WATER POLICY 2012, RIGHTS TO LIFE, PEOPLE, INDIA  
 

"Expressing its concern over the Draft National Water Policy, 2012, Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO), a coalition of civil society organisations, farmers and intellectuals working on issues in areas of water and environment, has made an appeal to the Chief Minister of Odisha to oppose the Draft Policy in its current form.

 

HNF Correspondent

 
 

While the present Government of India is all set to finalise the third draft of the National Water Policy, 2012, activists, intellectuals and organisations working on water issues stand against it saying that the draft is completely against the rights to life and livelihood of people.

Expressing its concern over the Draft National Water Policy, 2012, Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO), a coalition of civil society organisations, farmers and intellectuals working on issues in areas of water and environment, has made an appeal to the Chief Minister of Odisha ‘to oppose the Draft Policy in its current form’.

Alleging that there has hardly been any consultation with the people of the country, who otherwise are believed to be the real owners of the resources, on this Draft so far, the letter to Chief Minister of Odisha cited about the opposition from Governments such as Punjab and Kerala with Punjab cabinet rejecting this in a February-March 2012 resolution.

 

Related Story:

India Water Policy 2012: Design for water Loot

   

Many civil society groups working on water have also opposed this Draft Policy on multiple genuine grounds.’

Describing the draft policy as a move by the union government to take Water from ‘States’ list to ‘Concurrent’ list, the letter of appeal mentioned that the new regulation and administration mechanism, as proposed by this Policy, can be termed as infringing the State’s rights through a ‘coercive’ manner. Apprehending that the Government of India is planning to finalise the policy in the forthcoming meeting of October 30, the letter warns the Odisha government saying, ‘If this happens, we apprehend, the state governments will lose many of their rights in deciding and managing their water resources.  It will not benefit Odisha in matters such as the Polavaram dam.’

Raising objection to the Draft Policy on the view that its premises are built on principles of pricing, tariffs, commodification and commercialisation of water, WIO terms the draft policy as non-compliant to the UN General Assembly resolution number 64/292 of 28th July 2010 about ‘Human right to water and sanitation’, to which Indian government is a signatory. ‘This is now legally binding in international law. The UN affirmed by consensus that the right to water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living,’ said the appeal letter adding further that the draft policy doesn’t, also, recognise the rights enshrined in the Constitution of India in Article – 21 - Right to Life - includes the right to food and the right to water upheld by the Supreme Court in several judgements.’

In an annexure, WIO also raised its critical concerns over the draft policy while making some recommendations and urged that the policy must be guided by certain principles.

Critical Concerns

While the Draft Water Policy, 2012, accords basic livelihood and ecosystem needs as first priority, its prescription for “turning water into an ‘economic good’ after these needs are met” makes it an easy tool to exploit water for profit. Without a proper account of current needs, use and exploitation integrated with population growth, growing demand, and stresses arising out of climate change, it’s almost impossible to monitor such a vague and unclear ‘prioritisation’.

That the country still doesn’t have an updated database on the state of its water resources is clear from the draft policy which fails to come up with any concrete data on most issues it deals with. The existing policy expressed concern about adequate and accurate data; the proposed draft repeats this concern. All plans and policies related to water use and management are destined to fail in the absence of data, transparency and accessibility. It’s, perhaps, because of inadequacy of data and assessment that the policy fails to quantify that ‘minimum’ of basic need beyond which it suggests water be treated as ‘economic good’.

Maintaining ecological flow, a major concern across the globe, has not been accorded due seriousness in the draft policy. Like the 2002 policy, the draft proposes to set aside a portion of river flow to meet ecological needs. Considering the extent of degradation of India’s rivers and the pace of industrialisation and urbanisation, with scant control over the use and abuse of rivers by these sectors, there is no doubt that ensuring the minimum ecological flow of rivers is going to be more difficult. Indeed, here, water as a survival need and as an economic good contradicts one another. The draft policy puts the onus of local-level awareness, maintenance etc. on local communities, but fails to recognise that most river basins are polluted and stressed by ‘industries’ and ‘urban settlements’. While the latter need water for survival and basic livelihoods, the former has historically been an abuser. Further, as basic users cannot pay for the use in ‘cash’, commercial and luxury users can use ‘cash payment’ to justify their abuse of the resource.

None of these problems have been addressed by the 2002 policy; and, the current draft does nothing further than advocating age-old and unviable transfer of water from open to closed basins and the formulation of regulatory authorities. The National Water Policy, 2002 also treated water as an economic good and talked about regulations and systematic planning, cost recovery, etc. However, we lost more water than we had in this one decade, water conflicts grew, and the bias towards corporations and the rich deepened.

Broad recommendations

What we should do, according to veteran water expert Ramaswamy Iyer, is to try and reverse our thinking. “The ecology cannot be asked to accommodate development needs. Our visions of development must spring from an understanding of ecological limits,” he asserts. Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People finds a way out in the South African Water Act while mentioning, “When the South African Water Act was passed in 1997, based on the White Paper on South African Water and Sanitation Policy, 1994, the policy took a detailed look at defining water for basic human needs, its quality, quantity, access, distance etc. as well as various issues related to water and environment. It was only with this background that South Africa could take the revolutionary step of securing water for basic human needs and ecological reserves first. It went through a rigorous, extensive process of consultations with communities and other stakeholders (which still continues) to actually calculate the reserve, implement it and monitor it.”

As against the 2002 policy, the 2012 policy considers climate change a major factor. This is understandable as debates and discussions around climate change increased substantially after the formation of the National Climate Change Action Plan, which is also said to have mandated the need for a new water policy. However, when it comes to mitigation and adaptation, the draft discounts the culprits and asks communities to take action, become sensitised and be resilient. It is now well established that rural communities -- a majority of the country’s population -- are excellent at adapting to climate change.

It is the urban society, large, centralised and heavy investment development models, and industry that are the real culprits. The policy should therefore make it mandatory for these sectors also to be climate sensitive and use water more rationally. This can be done through water rationing for these segments. Putting a price on water and leaving its management in the hands of the private sector will only increase the access of richer sections to this resource. India’s National Water Policy must recognise this reality.

Guiding principles

The National Water Policy should respect and be guided by the following principles:

Water is a finite natural resource over which all human beings and other species have equal rights.

Centralised authoritarian structures of water governance and regulation should be done away with.

Water for life and livelihoods (communities/people who are directly dependent on water for their livelihood, for example, fisher folk) should be provided free of cost as part of the state’s responsibility under the principle of ‘rights’ of these communities over the resource.

Industry and corporate houses that use water as a ‘commercial good’ for production and profit must not be considered stakeholders in ‘decision-making’ and hence must never be allowed to sit on any decision-making bodies related to water management and governance.

Water allocation should be based on the carrying capacity of the ecology, considering present and future use, demand, recharging and threat perspectives, where ‘future’ should not be limited to a few decades only.

If there has to be any bias towards a section in water allocation then it should be towards the poor, farmers, fisher folk and other sections of society whose lives and livelihood are directly related to water. And, of course, towards other life forms on the earth.

 
 

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