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Global water report promotes privatization narrative

Written By Krishna on Monday, July 09, 2012 | 9:54 PM

Ahead of Rio+20, United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published a 909 page report titled ‘United Nations World Water Development Report 4: Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk. It is envisaged as a Conference at the highest possible level, including Heads of State and Government or other representatives. It will result in a focused global political document

Citing a World Bank document of 2009, this three volume report says: “The National Ganga River Basin Authority in India, with the financial support of the World Bank, launched a programme in 2009 to clean the Ganges, to ensure that ‘no untreated municipal sewage or industrial effluents would be discharged into the river by 2020’. Previous action plans did not improve the health of the river, in which almost 95% of the pollution is caused by sewers and open drains (World Bank, 2011b). This time the governmental approach has moved from a town centric approach to a broader river basin approach, focussing on strengthening the newly formed National Ganga River Basin Authority, and financing the estimated US$4 billion needed to stop all discharge of untreated sewage and effluent into the Ganges by 2020” in volume 2 chapter 31 at page 718.

The report’s treatment of Ganga Basin, the largest river basin of the country which has catchment lying in 11 States leaves a lot to be desired. The report fails to enlist any achievement of the authority that was set up in February 2009. It does not scrutinize whether or not the promised ‘broader river basin approach’ has indeed been adopted. It does not dwell on the split personality of the Bank either.

The Bank has been undertaking contradictory projects in the Ganga basin without any sense of accountability. It depletes water quality of Ganga by supporting dams upstream and it provides loans for improvement of water quality in its downstream. Its position has consistently been contrary to what river basin approach is all about. Its avid support for ecologically destructive Interlinking of Rivers project demonstrates it. It may be noted that Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF) for World Bank Assisted National Ganga River Basin Project is organized and published into two volumes. The second volume document says. "The Ganga basin (which also extends into parts of Nepal, China and Bangladesh) accounts for about 26 percent of India’s landmass, 30 percent of its water resources, and more than 40 percent of its population." If the Bank knew that Ganga basin is an international river basin, how did it choose to refer to it as ‘national’? The UNESCO’s report like the Bank fails to comprehend that both Ganga and Mekong are Transboundary Rivers of Himalayan watershed.

In his foreword to the report, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of UN says, “If Rio+20 is to succeed, it must renew political commitment to integrated approaches to the sustainable management of the world’s freshwater resources.” Rio + 20 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
In the preface to the UNESCO report that is released every three years since March 2003, Olcay Ünver Coordinator, United Nations World Water Assessment Programme wrote, the report “has become the voice of the United Nations system in terms of the state, use and management of the world’s freshwater resources.” He claims that report focuses on how decisions made outside the ‘water box’ affect the resources and other users, linking water to a number of cross-cutting issues.

The release of the UNESCO report a few months prior to the Rio+20 Earth Summit could indeed have provided a sound basis for discussions on the future of our planet and water’s centrality in it had it not caved in under the influence of international, financial institutions, entities like the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Resources Institute (WRI), their The Access Initiative (TAI) and Coca Cola. It has provided quite an unsound basis to comprehend and initiate steps to protect the ecological space of water. Most importantly, it has failed in ambition.

If one compares the 522 page Report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel of Union Environment & Forests Ministry for South and Western India, one will find the poverty of ecological imagination of authors of the UNESCO’s report. The Indian panel advocates a graded or layered approach, with regulatory as well as promotional measures appropriately fine-tuned to local ecological and social contexts within the broad framework by fine-tuning through a participatory process going down to gram sabhas. Now that Ganga River Basin Authority and Mekong River Commission has proven itself to be too weak to act to safeguard the ecological integrity of river basins, the Report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel creates a compelling logic for a high powered panel both at national and international level to adopt a similar approach in dealing with ecological and natural resources in order to set matters right in the global eco system outside the ‘piped and bottled water framework’.
UNESCO’s report refers to India’s National Water Mission as a part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (2008) which is identifying several strategies to tackle climate change and achieve water-related goals. “The main goals are to create a comprehensive water database and proper public awareness and education campaigns, shift focus on overexploited areas, increase water use efficiency by 20% and promote IWRM (Integrated Water Resource Management) on a basin level…,” observes the report. Such uncritical reference to National Water Mission document ignores the parochial approach of the authors of the report and they fail to comprehend the stark democracy deficit in the process of creating it.
Citing a Planning Commission document of 2002, it says, “Water supply is a state responsibility, but various ministries share responsibility at central and state levels. Institutional arrangements for water supply vary within cities: a state-level agency is responsible for planning and investment, and local government is responsible for operation and maintenance. Local governments are increasingly turning operating and maintenance responsibilities to private companies.” The report is attempting to build a case for privatization of water by selectively citing Bank influenced documents of the Planning Commission. It fails to record the failure of private water companies who are engaged in direct water trade through pipes and bottles, in tankers and vessels, and indirectly or ‘virtually’ through products.

Not surprisingly, the authors of UNESCO report are quite impressed with a study titled The Coca-Cola Company and The Nature Conservancy that was done by researchers at the Twente University in the Netherlands in collaboration with Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc and Coca-Cola Europe on the water footprint of a 0.5 L PET bottle of Coca-Cola and found that the operational water footprint, equates to only about 1% of the total water footprint. It is entirely blue water, representing water added as an ingredient. The grey water footprint associated with operations (water used for domestic purposes) was determined to be zero because all wastewater is treated to meet or exceed wastewater treatment standards in a public wastewater treatment plant and returned to the environment under The Coca-Cola Company’s ‘Recycle’ commitment. The supply chain overhead water footprint was calculated and found to be negligible. There could not have been any negative inference. Will companies collaborate in studies which bring negative results and publicity for them? But authors of UNESCO report chose to overlook this manifest conflict of interest ridden study.

The UNESCO report reiterates that approximately 1.2 billion people, over half of whom live in India, defecate in the open. Its colossal failure in documenting and comparing the water footprint of those who defecate in open and those defecate within their own houses shows that the authors are offering platitudes and prejudiced observations and hiding the unpardonable sins of those who defecate in closed spaces.

If UNESCO’s report is looked at in the context of India’s Draft National Water Policy of 2012 and the Planning Commission's Draft National Water Framework Act, it becomes clear that both fail to undo the onslaught on the public water across the country by the foreign, national water companies and advocate corporatization and private sector participation. A National Planning meeting on Water organized by citizens’ groups in May, 2012 in New Delhi took stock of the considered efforts by vested interests to promote water as an economic good and to reduce the role of constitutionally elected democratic government to a simple regulator among other regressive measures. The UNESCO’s report uncritically recommends the approach of the WBCSD and the WRI. WBCSD and WRI are involved in the process of colonizing citizen groups, local NGOs, their information, their struggles and their negotiating space through their The Access Initiative (TAI).

The report refers to WBCSD and WRI’s Corporate Ecosystem Services Review, which helps companies identify and measure the risks and opportunities arising from their impact and dependence on ecosystem services, Global Water Tool, which helps companies and organizations map their water use and assess risks relative to their global operations and supply chains and Ecosystem Valuation Initiative, which is working to develop a Guide to Corporate Ecosystem Valuation that makes the case for ecosystem valuation as an integral part of business planning and corporate decision-making with 9 billion global population of 2050 in mind. The role of WBCSD, WRI and their TAI in the commodification and financialization of water and other resources of ecosystem merits rigorous examination.

The report is indulgent towards maintaining status quo. It meekly states, “In regions where there are large discrepancies between where the water is and where it is needed, the construction of large inter-basin transfer projects is likely to continue – despite the recognized advantages of moving the products of water rather than the water itself.” It does not question the desirability of “water re-allocation” through “agriculture-to-urban water transfers” wherein “farmers are compensated by urban users for increasing the availability of water through temporary or permanent transfers.”

The UNESCO report provides case studies to argue for water banking for surface water and groundwater and water markets and continuous public sector involvement so that “The public intermediary buys water from the willing sellers and then sells it to buyers. With this system, water managers are confident they can find the water they need at a predictable price.”

One finds the reflection of this state of mind even in Draft National Water Policy of 2012 which recommends “The “Service Provider” role of the state should be gradually shifted to that of a regulator of services and facilitator for strengthening the institutions responsible for planning, implementation and management of water resources. The water related services should be transferred to community and / or private sector with appropriate “Public Private Partnership” model.”

The draft policy quite like the 2002 version recommends diversion of rivers for interlinking by referring to inter-basin transfer of water although National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development Plan had recommended against it in 1999.

At the national meeting it was noted that most water policies of Ganga basin states and several countries in South Asia appear to be photocopies of each other. The same holds true for most of the South American countries too. It seems that they have been drafted at a common place like some international financial institution.

Union Water Resources Minister, Pawan Kumar Bansal informed the Parliament that there was no proposal for privatisation of water resources only public-private partnership (PPP) is recommended for effective utilisation of the scarce natural resource. Privatisation is not being done and it cannot be done on May 7, 2012. He said, “In the new proposed water policy, we have taken care to emphasize that the State should be encouraged to go in for public private partnership… public private partnership does not mean that you are privatizing the water sector. We are not privatising the water sector.” He added that there are many good projects where “the public private partnership model has been found attractive enough by different cities in the country to adopt that.”

Bansal mentioned the names of cities like Tirpur, Salt Lake Kolkata, Chennai, Nagpur, Hyderabad, Hubli, Dharwar, Belgaum, Gulbarga, Lattur, Mysore, Haldia, Dewas, Khandwa, Shivpuri, Raipur, Kolhapur, etc. He argued that at “So many places for one purpose or the other public private partnership model has been utilised, and it would be the policy of the Government to encourage that.” On May 10-11, at the national meeting of citizens’ groups Bansal’s reply in the Parliament was analyzed and there was unanimity among the participants that he was misrepresenting facts and misleading the house with impunity. The cities which mentioned by the minister are cases of failed PPP projects. Votaries of privatisation argue that they are not privatizing water, but only involving private parties in managing it. No private operator undertakes a project unless it is assured of its raw material i.e. water.

The fact is that the basic premise of PPP stands exposed despite this the JNUNURM model for signing PPP is being adopted in several cities. It has been extended from 63 cities to 5, 000 cities. The push in the policy for privatisation and commodification of the water sector is visible. The water related services are being transferred to a PPP mode, any venture in which the private sector is involved in a manner that it exercises control on some or all parts of the water supply system, from production, transmission, treatment to delivery. Generally, Engineering, Procurement and Construction contracts are not considered a PPP, but an Operation and Maintenance management contracts are considered.

There are several PPP projects where more than 90 per cent of the capital expenditure of $28.8 million comes from public resources. City’s water supplies are being handed over to private companies for 25 years. These agreement include a restriction that no parallel competing facility will be allowed. Although what constitutes a competing facility is not defined, it can well be stretched to mean private wells and other common water sources. Similar situation was witnessed in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Arati Tiwari, Corporator, Gulbarga shared the elaborate case study at the national meeting about how Karnataka Government’s plan to extend the 24x7 water supply scheme from a few select wards to entire city corporations of Hubli-Dharwad, Belgaum and Gulbarga has caused massive monetary increase in the rate of water supply. None of the 55 corporators of Gulbarga City Council have given their consent still the plan is unfolding. She narrated how her family has to foot a bill of Rs 3500/month as water charge. She argued that democracy has become a Govt off the people, buy the people and forget the people. The fact is that PPP arrangement is privatisation.

The UNESCO report records, “Risk management is also fairly common in the hydropower sector where hydropower companies are exposed to the hydrological supply risk. Water release decisions are combined with sophisticated financial products such as forward contracts and options to limit the risk exposure of the company. With the liberalization of the electricity sector in many countries, hydropower companies now face a new source of risk: the price risk.” At the citizens’ national meeting it was cogently argued that the involvement of private hydro power companies in is an exercise in privatization of water.

A book ‘Free the CBI’ by B R Lall, former Joint Director, CBI refers to author’s letter to K Vijaya Rama Rao, the then Director, CBI in August 1995 wherein he mentions that he strove for complete investigation into the power sector, which is draining the country. In the book it is mentioned that kickbacks may be 3 to 10 % of the project cost, but up-valuation is anything between 40 to 100 % of the real project cost. He had sent a report on Chamera project to Director, CBI where against an estimated cost of Rs 1393 crores in 1992, the negotiations for allotment are on for Rs 3300 to 3600 crores i.e.@ Rs 12 crores per MW whereas world over rate of only around Rs 6 crores per MW is considered reasonable for hydro electric projects. In the letter it is reasoned that even if this figure were to be Rs 2000 crores for 300 MW Chamera project, shouldn’t it be examined when Rs 1000 to 1500 crore of the nation is being squandered for kickbacks of Rs 100 crore. The Director CBI never permitted this probe. Citizens’ groups demand that the current CBI chief should initiate the investigation in the matter. UNESCO report and likes of Bansal feign ignorance about such situations.

The role of Planning Commission's Steering Committee on Water Resources and Sanitation that set up a Working Group on Water Governance for formulation of the Twelfth Five Year Plan was also discussed the national meeting. A dissenting report was annexed to the report of the Working Group on Urban and Industrial Water Supply and Sanitation expressing disagreement and disappointment with the fact that Water as Fundamental Human Right has been articulated strongly enough and articulation of the issue of privatisation also left a lot to be desired. Quite like the UNESCO report, Working Group’s report too has missed out on highlighting the many serious problems of privatisation and PPPs and has neglected the serious implications of these problems. In some states it was noted how the promise of 24 X 7 water supply turned out to be a 6 hour water supply even this is not mandatory. The quality of water is not the concern of the private water supplier. In such a situation, the recommendations in these reports appear weak. The recommendation that "there should be no privatisation in the drinking and municipal water supply systems" has not been noted in both these reports.

A situation is emerging where instead of providing assured safe drinking water as matter of right, right to purchase bottled water is being pushed. Despite this both national efforts and UN reports suggest anything to reverse the trend to save the ecosystem and its fluid for the present and future generations. Wedded to market socialism, China may have forgotten the lessons of free trade in opium, India and Indians cannot afford to allow free trade in water although their government is unconstitutionally declaring the country to be a market democracy.

Gopal Krishna

A revised version of the article was pulished at: http://www.rediff.com/news/column/the-dangers-of-indias-water-policy/20120618.htm
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