The issues of `Bijli, Sadak, Pani' have been recurring themes on which BJP and the NDA is claiming to capture the development paradigm pursued by their government. We have already exposed the reality of `Bijli' (the power sector) and `Sadak' (the road sector) in earlier episodes of the "Lies, damned lies and statistics" series. In the tenth study of the series, we release facts about `Pani' (the water sector) a vital ingredient of `feel good' which is being sought to be espoused and reinforced by the `Shining India' campaign.
Is India Really Shining?
Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics
v The Vajpayee government could have jolly well come up with another advertisement with its really ‘big achievement’ vis-à-vis drinking water:
Bottled water sold in the previous 50 years: negligible!
Bottled water sold during 5 years of NDA rule: Rs.5000 crores!!
Scarcity and poor quality of drinking water has led to the emergence of a huge bottled water industry worth over Rs 1,000 crore per annum, with drinking water being sold at the price of milk. Over 200 million people in India, by conservative estimates, do not have access to safe drinking water. About 15,000 habitations in the country are reported to be without any source of potable water; about 200,000 villages are only partially covered by drinking water schemes, and the existing water sources in about 250,000 villages have severe problems of quality.
v Urban water supply has also become notorious for its irregularity and poor quality. The per capita availability of fresh water in the country, which was a healthy 5,177 cubic metres in 1951, has dropped to 1,869 in 2001. (See http://www.chennaionline.com/science/10watersecurity.asp) Various international agencies have estimated that water scarcity in India will become acute with per capita availability dropping to 1,341 by 2025. Irrigation efficiencies are estimated to be around a very low 35 per cent, mostly due to poor maintenance and low budgetary allocations for the purpose.
v In response to the unstarred question No. 2773 in Rajya Sabha on 8th April, 2003, the Minister of Water Resources, Shri Arjun Sethi informed that, "As per the `United Nations World Water Development Report - Water for people, Water for Life', India has been ranked 120th among 122 selected nations in the world in terms of quality of water". He further informed, "The report states that the indicators like the widespread occurrence of poor water quality, the diversion of water from natural aquatic eco-systems and the emerging problems with ground water recharge were noted for indications of relative water quality."
v Natural resources like land and water have not received the attention they deserve. India shares 16 per cent of global population, but has only 2.4 per cent of total land and 4 per cent of the total water resource. The number of dark blocks where there is overexploitation of groundwater are over 85 per cent and is increasing. Between 1984-85 and 1998-99, the number of dark blocks increased from 253 to 428. (Source: Tenth Plan documents, Planning Commission)
v The two major elements of the BJP's response to the problem of water security, the inter-linking of rivers and privatisation, are recipes to aggravate the situation further. Numerous studies by different agencies and expert groups cite serious problems in the proposed River Inter-linking Project, which is estimated to cost around a huge Rs. 5,70,00,000 crores, not to mention the inevitable cost escalation. Tushaar Shah, head of the IWMI (International Water Management Institute, Colombo) -Tata Water Policy Programme, has suggested that besides entailing huge costs the project would need a long gestation period of about 40 years by which the priority and requirement of the country could change. (The Hindu, 31st January 2003)
v The BJP led government has set a deadline for 2016 to complete the river-interlinking project. However, many state governments including the BJP government of Gujarat have objected to the diversion of water from rivers passing through their States. The Gujarat government raised objections to the Centre’s project to divert water from the Daman Ganga river in South Gujarat to Pinjal in Maharashtra, stating that this will defeat the very purpose of inter-linking of rivers having surplus water to those having deficit water. (Indian Express, Ahmedabad edition, April 19, 2003). This brings into question the source from where water proposed to be transferred to deficit areas would come from. All these problems remaining unaddressed, the BJP-led government has been selling the river linking project as a vote catching machine.
v Faced with growing shortage of water for irrigation in rural areas, and water scarcity in urban areas, reckless exploitation of groundwater, mainly by private and corporate parties, is accelerating under the patronage of the government. Groundwater has been allowed to become the ‘private property’ of the rich who has the financial capacity to invest in its extraction and distribution. Trade in groundwater in India today is close to Rs.3000 crores, with around 50 per cent of the urban domestic and industrial demand being met through groundwater. And yet, despite public pressure, neither the NDA's National Water Policy nor its various legislative or administrative measures have showed any desire to regulate or control this dangerous trend.
v This should surprise no one, since the BJP and its allies are only following the World Bank which has long argued for privatisation of water. World Bank-financed projects in Latin America and Africa have even supported small-scale water businesses by rich land-owners. The NDA's National Water Policy adopts an explicit position in favour of privatisation of water resources. It states that “Private sector participation should be encouraged in planning, development and management of water resources projects for diverse uses, wherever feasible. Private sector participation may help in introducing innovative ideas, generating financial resources and introducing corporate management and improving service efficiency and accountability to users.” The NDA’s approach has therefore been contradictory to the preservation of water as a precious national resource, which should necessarily be under public control and ensure universal access.