Time to Declare Water as a Human Right in India

by August 4, 2018 0 comments

Time to Declare Water as a Human Right in India

It is high time we introduce a Water Bill that treats water as an undeniable human right in India, even as we put emphasis on the need to conserve it.

India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat.” Thus starts the NITI Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index report. It is, perhaps, a well-known fact that India’s water crisis has been looming like a bomb ready to explode anytime. And, therefore, efforts of the NITI Aayog towards developing an evidence-based water management index are laudable.

Solving India’s water crisis requires utilising every juice of the Indian Constitutions’ federal setup and institutional framework. Water, fluidic as it is, trickles through the jurisdiction of every Ministry and federal pillar of the Indian governance structure. Therefore, this makes the governance of water a very tricky subject. However, today, a situation has come when water governance needs to be fixed in the larger interest of 1.3 billion people of this country. There are seven major river water disputes spanning 11 States; there are 600 million people living in acute water risk with repercussions hitting the agricultural economy. The consequent emergence of inflation and health issues will lead to larger fault lines along the country’s socio-economic façade.

Therefore, a deep thought led us to ponder upon the creation of water as a right and not as a commodity. In this context, this writer plans to introduce in this Monsoon Session of Parliament, the Water (Accessibility and conservation) Bill, 2018, which among others, proposes to declare water as a right. Water constitutes the essential necessities of life. While it is important for the Government to ensure that water is available to the common citizenry, the importance to conserve water also needs to be sufficiently emphasised, which the Bill does through several provisions incentivising conservation at the individual level, as well as by according conservation to the local Government’s responsibilities.

The abject water crisis in Shimla highlighted the need to remove, rebuild and restore water systems to cities in sync with the growing demand from an increasing population. As much as there was some criticism on the part of the Government, the truth is that these water systems remained unchanged since the British era. The prime reason why we face such problems is because of the lack of local governance. Despite the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments empowering local Governments, they cannot directly enforce financial discipline, raise their own resources, and enforce resources. Therefore, the Water Bill aims to bring governance to the third-tier of the Government. The Bill proposes a Water Management Centre to be run, deriving its power from the local Government. The management committee will decide the entire facet of water governance of that region.

Today, climate change has introduced a lot of uncertainty into the weather patterns, and as a result, we are witnessing cloudburst at some places while severe drought in another. Many remote villages, which do not find their presence in the administration’s day-to-day scheme of things, suffer from the lack of basic needs of life such as water. Therefore, this Right to Water Bill proposes the setting up of a water security plan for each village and urban settlement. The setting up of a water security plan ensures foresight and prior planning to ensure availability of water in any situation.

In a further boost to the existing water systems, the Right to Water Bill empowers the Government to protect water dependent ecosystems. Today, such ecosystems have become very fragile and there cannot be enough emphasis on keeping such systems protected. Indiscriminate and unregulated sand-mining causes erosion of river banks and damages biodiversity which brings flooding and other natural disasters. In line with the Government’s effort to boost water availability to the common citizens, Right to Water Bill mandates the availability of water source within a radius of one kilometre in cases of rural household; whereas in urban household, apart from presence of taps, the bill mandates an hour of continuous and safe water.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while responding to the vagaries of nature, has ensured that the Government designs adequate policy responses and shock absorbents. The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) is a momentous effort towards ensuring adequate water for agricultural irrigation purposes. Apart from ensuring availability, PMKSY is also designed towards sustainability of water conservation. The river linking project could be called a game changer in terms of water governance. Apart from preventing flood in rivers which face high water runout, it can even the balances by filling the dry streams and basins. In a laudable initiative, Prime Minister Modi has asked local Governments to link MNREGA work to be integrated towards developing water conservation projects in villages. MNREGA could be used towards creating valuable assets such as rain water harvesting systems in villages which will go a long way in water conservation.

As we see, water has gone a long way from being a free resource to a commodity to now an endangered element. But, water, as a resource will always be a necessity for humanity and Earth. And, water governance will be key to keeping this necessity, safe and available to everyone.

Writer: Anurag Thakur

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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