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Need water, pay money!
By Devinder Sharma

Governments in power cite water scarcity as the prime reason behind their failure to ensure regular supply of safe drinking water to all citizens. But how come the private tankers and water bottlers always find enough water to sell?


During water scarcity, supply through private tankers becomes
thriving business

Every year during summer, the people in most cities and villages of India face the crisis of pure drinking water. With temperatures soaring, and with the major reservoirs drying, the battle for drinking water is becoming louder and bloodier, day by day. Unable to get their daily requirement of drinking water, angry protestors in various cities are taking to streets.

In the weeks to come, non-availability of water is sure to adorn the news. The warning bells have been ringing for over 15 years now, but nobody cared. Even now, when projections show that 70 per cent more ground water has been depleted in the past decade than in the last decade of 1990s, and that water sources across the country have been contaminated in almost all the states leading to serious health problems like cancer and fluorosis that damages bones, teeth and muscles, the nation is not perturbed.

Parliament was informed recently that 1.80 lakh villages (out of the 6 lakh villages in the country) are afflicted by poor water quality. What these villages drink is nothing but slow poison. In addition, what Parliament is not informed is that almost all the tributaries of our major rivers have become drain channels for the industry. Take, for instance, Ammi river flowing in the outskirts of Gorakhpur. For years now, over 1.5 lakh people who live on the banks of the river have been protesting against industrial effluents that have turned the river - the only lifeline for hundreds of villages on its banks - into a source of misery.

Ammi is not the only tributary that has turned into a drain. Almost all tributaries of the major Indian rivers flow dirty. Somehow the policy makers and planners treat the dirty rivers and tributaries as a misplaced sign of industrialisation, and thereby treat it as an index of development.

Isn't it shocking that after 63 years of Independence, only 12 per cent of the rural households have drinking water taps?

Returning back to the issue of shrinking drinking water availability, a parliamentary standing committee has informed that while more than 84 per cent of the households in rural areas are covered under rural water supply, only 16 per cent population gets drinking water from public taps. However, just 12 per cent of rural families have individual taps in their houses. This too is highly skewed in favour of the more progressive States. In Orissa, for instance, only 9 per cent households have access to tap water. If you travel to Kalahandi district, the percentage of population having access to tap water drops to a mere 2.76 per cent.

The picture isn't very rosy for the urban areas. Only 37 per cent of the households (both urban and rural) have access to tap water. In other words, not only food entitlements, there is an urgent need to ensure right to safe drinking water.

Isn't it shocking that after 63 years of Independence, only 12 per cent of the rural households have drinking water taps? This is despite the National Rural Drinking Water Programme being operative, for which Rs 8,000-crore was provided in 2009-10.

What is more shocking is that while the drinking water taps are going dry; there is never a shortage of water supply from tankers? In Mumbai, for instance, an estimate shows that nearly 48 per cent of the drinking water gets lost due to leaks from damaged pipelines. Some people suspect the tanker mafia is behind this major loss. Not only Mumbai, cities across the country are under siege by tanker mafia. In the rural areas too, the water mafia has been continuously at work. If the water sources are drying up across the country, I wonder from where the tankers get water. Every one knows that the tanker mafia is leaving the countryside parched and dry, but who cares?

Unfortunately, providing clean drinking water is no longer a national priority. Somehow the government believes that the more pressing need is to make the water resources available to the bottled water industry.

Well, the corporate sector certainly gives an impression that it cares. It has to. After all, much of the water crisis is its creation. First the industries guzzle up water, and pollute the rivers and water bodies, and then they launch water saving initiatives under Corporate Social Responsibility. The ITC for instance has launched a project in Gurgaon to teach housemaids on how to save water while cleaning the utensils. Teaching the maid servants on how to save one mug of water is surely some responsibility!

What the corporate sector refuses to point at is the recent decision of the Andhra Pradesh government to allocate 21.5 lakh litres per day from the Krishna River in Guntur district to Coca-Cola. While several hundred villages in Guntur district are grappling with acute drinking water shortage, the government perhaps thinks that rural poor can quench their thirst from drinking Coke instead. To justify its exploitation of water, Coca-Cola claims to be buying mangoes for its Maaza brand under its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. Hitting two birds with one stone, isn't it? But who cares?

Unfortunately, providing clean drinking water is no longer a national priority. Somehow the government believes that the more pressing need is to make the water resources available to the bottled water industry. With the elite and the middle class are satisfied at the easy availability of bottled water, the rest of the population continues to suffer. Over the years, the State and the Central government have shifted focus to the middle class, as if the rest of the country does not need water.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

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Feedback /Comments on this article
Even after 63 years of our Independence, we lack the basic necessity - WATER!!

You are quite right in mentioning about private water tankers, sealed drinking water bottles, sachets etc. That means water is available in plenty to these sharks to make hay while the sun shines. Even after 63 years of our Independence the situation is same, may be worse. You have mentioned only 12% of the rural households have drinking water taps. But what is the use of having water taps when you dont get a single drop of water. Daily we see ladies, children holding empty pots and standing in a queue in hot summer to get drinking water. It is shameful. Some years back Dr. K. L. Rao had suggested to link all the rivers of India. From Ganga to Kaveri. That proposal is yet to be implemented. Govts will come and go but water and power problems are permanent.

Posted By: Ramakrishnan
Dated: Thursday, May 13, 2010

Poor management!!

Not only that, most of rural women in rajasthan the well known desert in India, are forced to spend hours daily in getting water. We have good availability of drinkable water, but what we lack is smarter management of available resources like water, cultivatable soil (Agriculture land). Its all money driven when it comes to tankers, they will usually get supply from same public water supply and they share some % (I am not generalising it, but it happens at lot of places). More ever in crowded places like Bangalore, we pay Rs 40 every day to get packaged water of 20 L, no one certifies it whether this water is consumable or not. We the people need to wake up and start asking questions and find answers on our own and mandate it to goverment, I hope people are concerned and are open to responding.

Posted By: Ruturaj Doshi
Dated: Thursday, May 13, 2010

 Other Articles by Devinder Sharma in
Human Development  > Water and Sanitation > Water Availability and Distribution

Wrong policies behind Rajasthan's water crisis
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Desert state Rajasthan, which has long been renowned for its traditional water harvesting methods, is today facing an acute water crisis. Policy makers blame the deficit rainfall for the crisis, but in fact misplaced agriculture and development policies have created the emergency.
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The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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