The Service Provider Government

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I am very, very angry right now. In a country reeling with inflation, with a majority of its population under poverty, the government is set to “privatize water”.

The Union government is consulting on a new National Water Policy calling for privatisation of water-delivery services. Important point here is to note “water-delivery” which I assume will mean the vast pipelines and such installed at tax-payer’s expense by earlier governments for improving the country.

Kind of like selling ancestral property and calling yourself rich.

Whether this will mean better quality of water is debatable, since that isn’t exactly delivery. What improvements can we expect? Branded pipes, definitely. Individually billed meters for taps, I presume, since no one will want to pay for another’s consumption.

The idea is to price water to “fully recover” the costs of operation and administration of water-resources projects. In the process, massive additional costs for reorganizing pipelines, installing meters, etc.

In other words, our national resources will become private assets and we will be expected to pay more money for that. While the “fully recover” implies great losses that are destroying our economy (I presume), would the private entity commit to management costs that are comparable with the government? Unlikely. They will have “better quality” and we all know “quality” is expensive.

Incidentally, that also means that all these going ons will likely be outside the scope of the RTI (which is another matter – the RTI needs to be expanded)

Quoting the Hindu:

Recently circulated to water experts for consultations, the 15-page draft National Water Policy suggests that the government withdraw from its role as a service provider in the water sector. Instead, it says, communities and the private sector should be encouraged to play this role. The proposals could mean sharp rises in the cost of water for both rural and urban users — an outcome the policy suggests will help curtail misuse of a precious but scarce resource.

This whole idea of the “government as a service provider” is new and not a nice development. Not because the meaning is incorrect, but the government is not a service provider, it is the custodian of a resource that belongs to the entire nation. Ensuring that the nation is able to utilize it and prosper is not exactly “service provider”, but a part of something vast – their responsibility of the country’s assets and well being.

If they cannot do it, the solution is not to get rid of the assets, but find better administrators. Ours is a country with a vast population of poor people – making an essential like water not freely available is human rights abuse on a genocidal scale.

I know there is a provision for public taps that the government will still maintain, that people can use freely. But why does this new infrastructure need to be developed at all? Is a regular citizen of India really expected to buy water or walk to a tap and fill it? What about old, retired people? Does this sound like a developing country or freaking Sudan? Who will compensate me for my plumbing that I installed expecting that water is a national resource if I don’t want to pay more money to bloodsucking corporations?

Also very intriguing that this publicly available “minimum quantity of potable water for essential health and hygiene to all citizens” is not an enforceable right. So what? You deny citizens water if it works out inconvenient? More importantly, how is this “minimum quantity of potable water” for each citizen provided? The freaking PDS? Should people go and stand in line everyday to get their quota of water? Many will have to, you know, to decrease reliance on expensive billed water.

Let’s talk about billing. Overbilling is a common phenomenon in the private industry and refusal to pay overbilled amounts results in discontinuation of service and thugs making threats. What accountability is here? Should a person who had… say some unexpectedly high bill who refuses to pay it start expecting “collection agents” making threats? It is a regular privatized feature, you know?

And “misuse” is such a subjective term, no? Where does misuse begin and regular use start? Do I wear clothes more before washing to save water? Bathe maybe once a week or so, since the steep rise in price will need drastic actions to get back into budget? Will we have prepaid water plans, so we can automatically ask for not receiving more water than we can afford? What do we do for the rest of the month?

The draft policy calls for the abolition of all forms of water subsidies to the agricultural and domestic sectors, but says “subsidies and incentives” should be provided to private industry for recycling and reusing treated effluents. It also proposes that subsidy to agricultural electricity users be curtailed, saying it leads to a “wasteful use of both electricity and water.”

Let me get this right. Agriculture and domestic sector subsidies should be abolished. Why? Wasteful. Instead, give subsidies and incentives to polluting entities who so far don’t clean their messes to clean them? Why? Don’t they price their goods and services to cover costs? Why do they need a government subsidy? A good question is why not revoke licences of polluting entities for polluting the environment? Who is the government protecting? The country’s water and environment, or corporations who already make massive profit?

Instead, you have farmers committing suicide because crops fail anyway and they have invested in seeds – now, their crops can also fail because of they can’t afford water? Will the government ensure they recover their water expenses from the rates they get?

In a major departure from the past, the policy also suggests that people displaced by large water projects should be made partners in progress and given a share in the benefits comparable to the project-benefited families. In fact, the policy suggests that the cost of rehabilitation and compensation to the project affected families be “partly” borne by the project-benefited families through “adequate pricing of water.”

This sounds great, except that it means that when the government gets some whim to displace thousands, it will not pay for their rehabilitation, you will.

In other words, this in this latest farce, the government abdicates its responsibilities toward safeguarding fundamental rights of citizens, hands over a national resource built over decades with great effort to corporations, inflicts massive bills or denial of water on the citizens, and overall acts like a drunkard selling valuables to pay for his outstanding dues so that he can drink more.

Last, but not least, strategic analysts say that wars this century will be fought over water. With this strategy, with war, or without war, our country loses its water anyway.

This is not a government, but one of those “Mogambo” variety villains who care not that masses suffer for their greed. This kind of thinking doesn’t consider the lives it impacts to be humans, but numbers to be tamed into a profitable equation.


Note: I am really pissed right now. I may update this to politer or still ruder.

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Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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