Investment in Clean Drinking Water in Neoliberal times – A Telangana Way

    • By,
      Mohammad Juned Shahil – Student, Kautilya

In the era of Neoliberalism, the dominant ideology and policy model encourages free market competition and emphasizes minimal state intervention. This has led to commodifying every essential service the state is supposed to provide. Water is one such essential resource. Neoliberalism’s commitment to freedom of trade and capital has made natural resources an object of trade or commodities with a price. The world now experiences water scarcity due to changes in climatic patterns and rainfalls. The other reason for water scarcity due to the shortage is the change in utilization patterns. The actual scarcity is more due to the uneven distribution of water resources. There is an emerging trend of water and water bodies trade across the world due to growing water scarcity on a global scale. However, the commodification and privatization of the world’s water resources are now presented as the only ‘road map’ available to provide universal access to water and towards environmental sustainability.

The World Bank, the IMF, and other organizations have vigorously campaigned for water privatization, as the commodification of water should allow market forces to determine the water tariff, which will, in turn, lead to a decrease in water consumption and a promotion of water conservation. Additionally, it is asserted that allowing private companies into this market will attract much-needed infrastructure development and improvement, which is why the Indian government is also promoting water privatization. The concern about treating water as a commodity is that it will become subject to market prices, which is true today in India, as there is a rapid increase in the water tanker mafia around Indian cities Like Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, and Jaipur. Water privatization first violates the fundamental human right “Right to Life” and impacts through an increase in water costs and compromised water quality, leading to wholesale water exports and unsustainable water mining. The best example in the Indian context is the Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada, Kerala, which has led to a decrease in the groundwater level and a harmful impact on the health of local people.

Nearly 163 million of India’s population of 1.3 billion lack access to clean water close to home – the most of any country in the world, according to a report this year by the Britain-based charity WaterAid. Women are the worst affected by this crisis, putting them at a higher risk of vulnerability. According to a few estimates, a rural woman walks 5 to 20 kilometers daily to fetch water. With the physical stress of collecting water, they also struggle to maintain menstrual hygiene. Moreover, Clean India Mission, which aims to end open defecation in rural areas, needs running water in the installed toilets. But many don’t have running water, leaving an additional burden on women. All together, leaving the girls to miss school and women a chance of decent living.

In times when states are limiting their role in the free market economy and water is becoming a precious and scarce commodity, In 2016, the Government of Telangana came up with a scheme called “Mission Bhagiratha,” a flagship initiative of the state government. It has invested around 43,791 crores in providing clean and safe drinking water by laying around a 1.30 lakh km stretch of pipelines to every household in Telangana. This move aimed to democratize control of public water systems, which have been the backbone of public health, economic development, and environmental sustainability for people and their well-being. Investing every rupee in providing tapped water supply to each household addresses women’s water, hygiene, and sanitation requirements which will attain gender equality, unlocking their potential. In the recent National Functionality Assessment Report 2022, Telangana has been awarded to supply regular water to its 100% rural households. This mission has stood out as a role model to the country for its outstanding and unparalleled performance in supplying safe drinking water. It made officials from a few states, like Bihar and West Bengal, visit the project. This commitment by the Telangana state, which is reflected year after year, is a right step towards the ‘de-commodification of water,’ a counter-balancing act against those market forces on the expedition of water trading.

Even in the petitions filed in Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court said, “supply of clean drinking water is a fundamental right. It is really unfortunate that they (petitioners) have to knock on the court’s doors even after 75 years of independence to get water supply.” The ‘Right to Water’ is essential to the ‘Right to lead a dignified life’ and is therefore equivalent to one of the fundamental rights. The covid-19 pandemic devastated poor and vulnerable communities; when your ability to protect yourself from infectious diseases is determined by safe and affordable drinking water, water service provision is not a matter of convenience but life and death. Improved access to clean drinking water means people are less likely to fall ill; these improved health benefits will extend to better livelihoods, spending less on hospitalizations, and increasing long-term employment opportunities for both men and women, which in turn helps us to achieve gender equality and reduce poverty. Therefore, water services must be democratized and placed under public control. So, the government’s either start investing or increase their current spending in providing access and affordability to clean drinking water will catalyze the country’s dawdling social and economic development.

“Water must be free for sustenance needs. Since nature gives water to us free of cost, buying and selling it for profit violates our inherent right to nature’s gift and denies the poor their human rights.” Vandana Shiva

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.