Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dear Chief Minister: Oppose Draft National Water Policy 2012 in its current form.

From Water Initiatives Odisha[1]

The Chief Minister
Government of Odisha

Subject: Request to oppose the Draft National Water Policy 2012 in its current form.

Dear Chief Minister,

As you may be kindly aware the Government of India has prepared the draft National Water Policy 2012 in January 2012 and since then two revisions have taken place. The 3rd draft was approved in June 2012 at a meeting of the National Water Resources Board. The Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India has taken recourse to the position that there should be a unified national perspective on water resources utilisation and management at local, regional, state and national level in drafting this policy. After various meetings and three drafts no consensus has yet emerged on various issues and aspects of the Draft Policy among the states.  In fact, there has hardly been any consultation with the people of the country on this Draft so far.

Many state Governments such as Punjab, Kerala etc, have opposed this draft policy and the Punjab cabinet has rejected this in a resolution of February-March 2012. Many civil society groups working on water have also opposed this Draft Policy on several genuine grounds.  Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) has raised critical issues on this policy already.  This letter is to urge upon your good office to oppose the Draft Policy in its current form in the forthcoming meeting of National Water Resources Council meeting to be held on 30th of this month.  Based on media reports we believe that the Govt. of India is planning to finalize this Policy in that meeting. 

The National Water Resources Council headed by the PM and with Chief Ministers of all states as members had deferred taking up the draft national water policy 2012.  In fact, the new regulation and administration mechanisms that are being proposed by this Policy can be termed as infringing the State’s rights through a ‘coercive’ manner.  This is related to the move to take Water from ‘States’ list to ‘Concurrent’ list.  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. 

We at WIO have raised objections to the Draft Policy as its premises are built on principles of pricing, tariffs, commodification and commercialisation of water.  Water is a matter of right for the people and biodiversity.  By putting a price tag in a manner that will exhaust our already shrinking water resource, the policy, we are sure is meant to allow the private sector to make use of govt funds to increase their profits through contracts and concession agreements.  So, we urge, the Govt. of India must first revise and withdraw the policy position that water is an economic good rather and introduce it as an ‘finite ecological resource’ and then prioritize the allocations in a way that gives the people and ecology the first rights over the resource. In no circumstances, price and investment should determine the allocation of water.  We should not forget that we have not created water but we are only using it and the government is a custodian of the resource for common good.  In fact the Policy is also taking positions where, we apprehend, government will be reduced to few regulatory functions only and the private parties will take control of service provision and water management.  This cannot be accepted in a democratic country and hence must be opposed strongly.

Indian government is a signatory to the UN General Assembly resolution number 64/292 of 28th July 2010 “Human right to water and sanitation”, approved by 120 countries. 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, as contained in several international human rights treaties in UN Human Rights Council decision of September 28, 2011.  The rights enshrined in the Constitution of India in Article - 21 “Right to Life” includes the right to food and the right to water which are also upheld by the Supreme Court in several cases and judgements.  The current Draft, even though an improvement from the previous ones, has failed to recognize this in its true spirits.  We urge upon you to oppose this to give justice to the people and biodiversity of the state.

The Water Regulatory Authorities proposed in the policy may turn out to be highly autocratic in nature and under the premise of ‘commodification of water’ they will surely work with a bias towards the private sector at the cost of the common people, farmers, fisherfolks and biodiversity.  While we suggest for democratic ways of regulating water use with participation of the common people and people’s representatives in a bottom-up approach, any participation of industrialists and corporate houses in decision making authorities of water resources governance be opposed.  They should not be any decision making role in the proposed Integrated Water Resources Management programme driven River Basin Organisations as well.  They can at best be termed as ‘consumers’ allocation of water to whom can be decided only by democratic authorities based on principles of ‘water security for present and future’ with proper cumulative ecological impacts assessment done for all the water resources of the state. 

Finally, we urge upon you to demand adequate public consultations on the Draft Policy before it is finalized.  The Govt. of India should not be in a hurry to pass this without such consultations with the people.

There are several other issues which we have raised and for your kind attention, we are attaching (as annexure) some of our critical concerns on the Draft National Water Policy 2012 urging upon you to consider these while putting up the state government’s stand in the above said meeting. 

We look forward to your judicious action in this matter ensuring a secured water future for the people and biodiversity of the state. 

Thanking you

Ranjan Panda
Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha
Cell: +91-94370-50103

[1] Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) is a coalition of civil society organisations, farmers, academia, media and other concerned, which has been working on water, environment and climate change issues in the state for more than two decades now.

Annexure to WIO’s letter to Chief Minister of Odisha

Water Initiatives Odisha’s

Critical Concerns and Broad Suggestions on Draft National Water Policy 2012

While the Draft Water Policy, 2012 accords basic livelihood and ecosystem needs 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. No lessons appear to have been learnt. Further, without a proper account of current needs, use and exploitation integrated with population increases, 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 this inadequacy of data and assessment that the policy fails to quantify that ‘minimum’ of basic need beyond which it suggests water be treated as an ‘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, ensuring the minimum ecological flow of rivers will be difficult. Indeed here water as a survival need and as an economic good contradict 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 industry and urban settlement. While the later need water for survival and basic livelihoods, the former has historically been an abuser. Further, whilst 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; 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 set of 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: “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 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 be based on the following guiding 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, fisherfolk) 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 ‘decision-making’ stakeholders 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, fisherfolk and other sections of society whose lives and livelihood are directly related to water. And, of course, towards other life forms on earth.


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