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The recent water crisis, wastage of water and unfulfilled human right to water

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  24 April 2016 12:00 AM GMT

By Dr Susmita Priyadarshini

To check the misuse of water, Municipal Authority in Chandigarh has decided recently to impose a fine of Rs. 2000 on anyone found washing cars or watering plants between 5.30 am and 8.30 am . A special drive will be conducted between April 15th and June 30th to stop the wastage of potable water. Further the water supply of repeat offenders may be discontinued. Private companies have also come forward to help the Government of Maharashtra to lessen the effects of ongoing water crisis. Service provider company "Urban Clap" has announced that it will fix leakages across Mumbai homes free of cost . Starting April 15, the company will invite residents of the city to take a simple step towards reducing water wastage in their homes- by filing all the leaking water taps and pipes in their homes, for free. This consciousness came at time when the situation has already got out of hand.

In the early hours of 6th April, 2016 drinking water gushing through a leak in the major pipeline conveying water from Veeram lake to the Cheni city had submerged several streets. Precious drinking water was wasted. The leaked water got mixed with sewage that had been let into storm water drains and stagted on Paraniputhur main road .This happens because neither the state nor the local authorities take measures to prevent wastage of precious water though a good many no. of people are suffering due to water scarcity. 900 million litres of water are being wasted each day in Mumbai. Attempts are now being made to solve the current potable water crisis in Maharashtra by running water trains. But in order to fulfill the requirement of right to water, not only the wastage of water must be prevented but also its judicious use must be ensured. It is noteworthy that the right to water is not enshrined in the Indian Constitution as an explicit fundamental right. The fundamental right to water has evolved in India not through legal action but through judicial interpretation . The UN general Assembly and UN Human Rights Council passed the resolutions in 2010 emphasising the separate identity of right to water. The right to pollution free water and right to access to safe drinking water have been considered as a part of the Right to Life under article 21 of the Constitution of India. This is because of the liberal and activist interpretation of the fundamental right to life by the Indian judiciary both at the state as well as the Centre in several judgments. In addition to article 21, article 39(b) of the Directive Principle of the State Policy which the Constitution declares to be non- justiciable , recognizes the Principle of Equal Access to the Material Resources of the Community. In 2006, a public interest litigation was decided by the Kerala High Court regarding the grievances of the people of West Kochi who had been clamouring for supply of potable drinking water for more than three decades. Considering the fact that the petitioners have approached the Court as a last resort, the Court held-"We have no hesitation to held that failure of the state to provide safe drinking water to the citizens in adequate quantities would amount to violation of the fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitutions of India and would be a violation of human rights. Therefore, every Government, which has its priorities right, should give foremost importance to providing safe drinking water even at the cost of other developmental programmes. Nothing shall stand in its way whether it is lack of funds or infrastructure. Ways and means have to be found out at all costs with outmost expediency instead of restricting action in regard to mere lip service ". Having recognized safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right, pressure is now on local and tiol authorities to provide a better infrastructure for drains and clean water. The 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution of India empowers bodies of local self- governce by the creation of Panchayats in rural areas and Municipal Councils in towns to mage their own water resource- drinking water and water ways. But the attempt of all these years has made water an economic good from public good only, while failed miserably to ensure availability of fresh water as well as to prevent wastage of precious resource. As their only consideration is supplying the water, neither the water magement nor the quality maintence get proper importance .The Bombay High court on 6th April 2016 termed watering cricket pitches as a crimil wastage considering the drought like situation being faced by various other districts of Maharashtra. Stating that people were more important than the cricket matches the HC suggested to change the venue of the upcoming IPL matches ( beginning April 9, 2016).Later the Chief Minister Fadvis assured that potable water would not be provided for maintaining cricket grounds. Earlier due to water scarcity in the Thane district of Mumbai , the authorities had to set up a 24x7 hour control room and a toll free no. 1077 to register complaints against the misuse or commercialization of water. Stating that the right to water is an integral part of right to life of Article 21 of the constitution of India, the Bombay High court directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation ( BMC) to come up with a policy to with a policy to provide water to the allegedly erected slums in Mumbai; which came up on or before January , 2000. The ruling noted-whether slum dwellers are authorized dwellers or otherwise they had a right to live in a hygienic condition. It further noted that supplying water to illegal slum dwellers does not legitimize them. Mass poisoning at the hands of the government due to the installation of large no. of pumps ignoring the quality at Tapatjuri in gaon exemplifies the violation of human rights by the Government itself. It is the Higher Judiciary that has consistently upheld the right over the past couple of decades in India. Both access and quality are integral parts of right to water. The prioritization of access over quality obstructs the fulfillment of whole right. Unregulated and over exploited ground water extraction has resulted in ground water depletion and the resultant decline in water quality. Some well to do families make private investment to augment quantity and quality for their families. These solutions are not only far from optimal but also impact heavily on the availability and quality of ground water. But the Indian ground water laws allows landowners to extract as much as they want. Ground water is inherently difficult to monitor and control because of its invisibility that creates the illusion that each well is independent. But in reality, ground water within an acquifer interconnected and similarly acquifers and rivers are also interconnected. Ignoring this reality, ground water and rivers are regulated by different agencies in India .So, it leads to the double counting of the quantum of resources. But the most important thing is that if we run out of ground water millions of people will lose the means to sustain themselves. Ignoring these facts, how can the right to water be protected? It is true that idequate provision of water supply due to resource constraints has arrived us into this kind of situation, but the major reason for this dismal situation is the misdirected emphasis on investing in physical infrastructure only . The Government has failed miserably to ensure its maintence and sustaibility. Water is wasted, polluted and used inefficiently in the state while both the underground and overground infrastructure literally crumbling. Neither rain water harvesting nor water reuse are getting proper importance at the hands of the States. In a 2012 report looking at water needs for the next five years, the Planning Commission of India said that in cities with a population of over 100,000 only 73% of people were getting sufficient water. Nearly half the water supply was lost in distribution, as old water pipes fractured and broke it added. Till recently there is no fiscal instrument available with the Central Government which can influence and compel the states and cities to reform their urban water and services. So, existing institutions have to be restructured and strengthened for better service delivery and resource sustaibility. We are not using the power of politics to improve the situation. Elections are not fought on this issues. The paradigm for water supply is to grab as much from wherever possible while laying insufficient , leaky pipeline network and not monitoring usage or billing. This must change to maximise supply from local resources such as surface water and ground water. The key to better services is through improved magement and correct pricing. The future of urban water is linked to the economic and institutiol reform of urban local Government. Water magement requires realistic way of recovering delivery cost. The maging water cannot be seen as a sector in isolation. It is embedded in the functioning of local Government. If we can ensure the sustaibility of local govt. as an accountable tier of Government , only then we will able to achieve sustaibility of water both as a service and as a resource. Above all, there is a need for a legislative framework at the state or union level that sets out the broad principles and parameters guiding all actors involved in drinking water supply , for instance with regard to water quality. The minimum core obligation of the state flowing from the right to water of every person has not yet been be defined and specified in India either by the legislature or by the courts. So, it is time to clearly recognize that a certain quantity of water litres per capita per day or lpcd is a most basic human need and should be seen as an inviolable part of the fundamental right to water as guaranteed by the Article 21 of the Constitution.

(The writer is an Assistant Professor, Economics, DCB Girls' College, Jorhat-1, Assam)

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