How Uruguay Rejected Water Privatisation By Voting & India Allowed For Shivnath River

7 April 2017 9:56 AM GMT
How Uruguay Rejected Water Privatisation By Voting & India Allowed For Shivnath River

Water Privatisation

Water Privatisation is referred to the transfer of ownership of water resources (water control and management) from the public/government sector to the private sector. These water management services conventionally taken care of by local government bodies such as the municipality usually include the collection, purification, distribution and waste treatment of water.

After the year 2000, water privatization drive accelerated in India, as the government implemented a variety of reforms recommended by international financial institutions such as The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank.

The government implemented National Water Policy in 2002, hoping that commoditization of water would allow economic market forces to set the water tariff, as compared to water subsidies (in public sector) that encourage wasteful practices. Hence, rivatization was expected to result in reduced water consumption and increased water conservation, while also bringing more transparency and accountability to the process.

Shivnath River, Chhattisgarh

The 345-kilometers long, Shivnath River, is Mahanadi’s largest tributary. Originating in Godari village of Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra, the river flows 300 kilometers northeast to join Mahanadi River in Chhattisgarh. To meet the water demands in the Borai Industrial Area located on the banks of the Shivnath River, The CSIDC (Chhattisgarh State Industries Development Corporation) commissioned the project, which resulted in selling rights of 23.5-kilometer stretch of the Shivnath River in Durg District, to Radius Water Limited (RWL).

Shivnath river near Mahamara Barrage, Durg
Image Courtesy: India Water Portal

In 1998, RWL, hence, received monopolistic rights over the stretch of the Shivnath River for 22 years (renewable contract). To control the water flow based on the level of the river, the company developed an integrated water supply system. The privatisation deal further guaranteed payment to RWC, for a minimum of 4 million litres of water daily by the State Government, regardless of the water used, and irrespective of whether CSIDC recovers this amount from the industries. As a result, CSIDC reported a loss of INR 12.9 million between December 2000 and June 2002.

Cities like Durg, Bhilai and Rajnandao, rely on the Shivnath River as a major source of drinking water. Residents around the banks of the river have witnessed radical changes in the constitution of the river and its bed, since the privatisation. Unregulated economic activities around the river, along with high human intervention in the river’s bed are expected to be the cause of deteriorating water quality.

Many women living along the banks of the river are seen walking for about 0.5 to 1km to fetch safe drinking water.
Bore wells remain the sole supply of water for a lot of these residents.
Image Courtesy: India Water Portal

Numerous villagers have stopped bathing in the river due to growing health problems related to water borne diseases.
Image Courtesy: India Water Portal

Shivnath River receives industrial effluents and sewage from nearby cities. Further, the brick kiln business around the river has grown from 100 to 250 units during the last ten years. Numerous hydro-morphological changes in the river channel along with riverbank erosion have resulted from unregulated soil excavation for making bricks using the soil from the river bed.

Brick kiln units that result in deteriorating water quality
Image Courtesy: India Water Portal

In addition, the bridges and dams built over Shivnath River have caused riverbank erosion across the basin, thereby affecting the lives and livelihoods of residents in the community. Since the privatization, villages were not permitted to use the river’s water for irrigation, fishing or other purposes. 80% of the 1000+ families in Durg district used the water for irrigation, while 20% relied on it for fishing.

Johan Lal Nishad from Nagpura village complains, that soil erosion has caused a lost of almost 20 acres of
farming land ina decade due to lack of erosion mitigation mechanisms and the building of dams across the river.
Image Courtesy: India Water Portal

Only 10 out of 150 families in Jevara Sirsa village of Durg continue to pursue pottery.
The decline in pottery business was caused due to reduced quality and availability of soil.
This resulted in increased soil prices, and hence a decline in demand for mud pots,
as claimed by Sohan Kumbhakar, a resident of Jevara Sirsa, Durg.
Image Courtesy: India Water Portal

A fisherman of Malaud village in Durg, Darbari Ram Nishad, states,
“Local varieties of fish such as Pengana, Khodawa, Kotri, Sarangi and Rudani have almost vanished”.
He blames water pollution and dams across Shivnath River for this loss.
Image Courtesy: India Water Portal

A people’s forum in Chhattisgarh, Nadi-Ghati Morcha, campaigned against the water privatization project by RWL. In 2007, finally, the government established a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that scrutinized the privatization project. The results revealed the illegality of the transaction between RWL and CSIDC, as the river cannot be a commodity for purchase or sale, especially when many livelihoods relied on it.

Activist of Nadi-Ghati Morcha, Shiv Kumar Nishad claimed, “With the constant intervention of the Nadi-Ghati Morcha, the RWL was compelled to give access to the villagers to take water from the Shivnath for irrigation and other purposes”. With this, the residents have some relief, however, the government is still urged to take stand for the rights of people, to completely resolve this conflict.

Uruguay: Response to Water Privatisation

Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America (after Suriname), with an area of 176,215km2. Water privatisation in Uruguay began with two provinces and was to be extended to the rest of the country. This was known from the “Letter of Intent” that was signed between the government and the IMF to “introduce new regulatory frameworks in several areas including electricity, telecommunications, water, sanitation, trains, transport, etc.”.

The result of this included, rise in prices of potable water by almost 10 times. Additionally poor neighborhoods were affected as the corporations removed pipes, thereby forcing the government to subsidize them to ensure water supply to these communities. Additionally, the water supply from these corporations was deemed as unfit for drinking.

On 31st October 2004, more than 60% of Uruguayan people voted to amend the constitution, making it the first in the world to give the state sole authority over water management. 10% of electorate signatures were required, which were collected from over 50 organizations in Uruguay, in order to qualify for a plebiscite to amend the Constitution. These organizations had limited resources, however, they held workshops, small group meetings, as well as educated citizens through local newspapers and radio, to obtain signatures. 230,000 signatures were required, and 283,000 signatures were presented.

This amendment made water privatisation unconstitutional, clearly stating “users and civil society are to participate in all planning, management and control of water resources”. Additionally, it declared water “a natural resource essential for life” and access to water and sanitation was made “a fundamental human right”.

Currently, water management in Uruguay is organized by river basins and hydrographic regions through councils called by DINAGUA (the National Water Directorate). Delegates from the government, the users (agriculture, pastures, etc) and civil society can participate in these councils, that are arranged to discuss water quality, regional development plans, emergencies such as droughts, good practices, etc. This participation of community in the management of water resources became a constitutional right as a result of the referendum.

Regional council in Las Cañas, Río Negro
Image Courtesy: rights4water

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