I am doing a very interesting course this semester. It's called Infrastructure Planning and Management, and I thorughly enjoy it. We in class have been discussing about various issues regarding infrastructural systems like Power, Transportation, Telecommunication, Water and Sanitation etc.

Dealing with water has been the most interesting experience so far. Let me pose you a question to begin with. How much do you pay for a litre of potable water? The second question is, how much do you think the slum dwellers pay for it? Is it less or is it more?

You would be surprised to learn that, the poor living in slums (which mostly are spread over illegal land) end up paying way more than you do. The World Bank has data to prove that. And the reason is pretty simple. We can get pipe connections, which brings public water while they can't get these piped connections since they don't have a legal address to provide! How do they get water then? They have to buy it from private water suppliers who generally bring tankers to the areas. And by all calculations, these tankers charge way more than what the publicly provided water costs.

What a state of affairs! Do you think a solution exists?

I would also like to ask few basic questions, which if not answered in the beginning itself, won't ever let you implement any change in the existing water and sanitation infrastructure in India and for that matter in most of the developing countries.

Who owns natural water? Is it the government? Or are they the common people? Or no one at all?
Is water a basic human right? If yes, does it mean it should be given away for free to everyone?

Let's see what you guys have to reflect on this. I will carry on the talk with upcoming posts.


  1. dhruv said...
    water doesn't belong to anybody. Neither the government nor the people. Its a free resource for anybody to use :). Solution to this problem is deporting these dwellers to where they belong i.e. their villages.
    amrit said...
    Hi Dhruv,

    It was nice of you to come back with your opinions.

    Well, let me tell answer you.

    1. Water is NOT a free resource. It is owned by the respective state governments. It could be ground water, river water or rain water. State Government owns everything (in general.

    2. The guys living in slums are not dwellers. Most of them took birth there itself, in the city and they belong to the city as much as you do.

    Will come back with more details on a later post.
    dhruv said...
    umm...technically its NOT a free resource. Agreed. I was speaking ethically and morally and NOT legally.

    I understand that many of the slum dwellers have been born here but that doesn't mean we can't deport them. I have a right to live here because I have legally bought a place in the city, pay taxes and contribute _positively_ towards the development of the city / state / country. While these people are just a drain on the city's resources be it public utilities or whatever.

    They have to be given a means to earn a proper living and contribute positively towards the development of the nation. Now, I do understand that some of these slum dwellers are doing some or the other jobs in the unorganized sector. But most are just the other category.

    So its ok for them to pay higher for water while they pay almost nothing for other amenities :/

    My views might seem a bit harsh but they are practical. And my original argument still stands :)
    Karthik Rao Cavale said...
    Technically, water is controlled by the state governments.

    Control does not imply ownership. The government is just the trustee to the property of the people of India, and it is expected to play its role in a just manner.

    E.g. when the government is unable to provide a household with the minimum requirement of water, it can not prevent the household from drawing groundwater to supplement the govt. supply. This is a court order.

    The implication is that water for domestic consumption is a basic right of each individual.

    The govt. can't charge households for the water they recieve, because it is their property! The govt. can charge for delivering the water to their doorstep, and it can charge for the purification of the water, but not for the water itself! In that sense, water for domestic purposes is NOT a commodity.

    When the govt. sells the remaining water for agricultural/industrial use, water becomes a commodity. Because the industrialist can't claim a right for water beyond his own domestic requirement, and the rest of the water has to be purchased.

    Unfortunately, NGOs don't seem to understand this point and oppose any commodification of water.

    In fact, today, across India, industries are being subsidised because they are able to draw unlimited amounts of groundwater at no cost other than the energy consumption of the pump. Commodification of water will help reduce this indiscriminate use of water, and remove the externalities created by such misuse.

    Traditionally, a part of the river water has always been used for irrigation. This gives the farmers a certain property right over the water based on their traditional use.

    The task that faces the nation is to quantify our water resources, and distribute them amongst all stakeholders, the farmers and the households, mainly. The rest can then be sold to private interests, at commercial rates.

    Sale of these water rights must be allowed, so as to ensure most profitable use of the water.

    The difference in the rates would be justified because the households are paying only for the delivery and the purification, the private guys are paying for the water itself.

    And there must be incentives for micro-level rainwater harvesting schemes. e.g. the village could claim ownership over any rainwater harvesting pond that was built by the panchayat.

    Well, that was my opinion on water management. Too long to be a comment, though.

    My post on the subject.

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