This document published by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) warns of the growing perception of water as an economic good and argues that a new consortium of business and international finance is systematically trying to influence how the world’s water will be allocated in future. This consortium seeks to promote policies that will treat water primarily as an economic good to be bought and sold, rather than a fundamental right. Because the consortium works directly with governments, or its office-holders, its initiatives are proceeding without much public awareness or attention.
The document argues that the latest example of this is India’s Draft National Water Policy (NWP) circulated by the Ministry of Water Resources. At first glance, it appears as if the policy has been taking a holistic approach to water resources management, with a clear recognition of India’s water woes. It accords preemptive priority for safe and clean drinking water and sanitation for all, and prioritises meeting water requirements for ecosystems.
However, water is not articulated strongly enough as a fundamental human right. The policy does not give any clear guidelines stipulating either quantity and quality of water or other parameters that mandate specific service standards. Without any safeguards and legally binding mechanisms for ensuring that water supply systems are accountable and effective, there is very little chance that this preemptive prioritisation will result in ensuring access to water for all in India.
The document ends by arguing that in the context of the climate crisis that India seeks to take into account through this national water policy, it is important to remember that a large number of water users, farmers and local communities have been making prudent decisions in the area of effective water management and adaptation. There is substantial practical knowledge that they can bring to the table that would completely change the way issues are looked at because of their hands-on experience of dealing with them day in and day out. Rules governing the use of water, an essential part of life itself, must be the result of careful consultation with all stakeholders, especially the least powerful, and should not be driven by corporations and international finance. This is important not only in India, but for the future of water governance globally.
In effect, the document argues that India’s new draft national water policy must include effective regulatory frameworks, safeguards and the clear recognition of water as a fundamental human right, without which corporate interests will continue to supersede marginalised, low-income communities and smallholder farmers.
A copy of the document can be downloaded from below: