Make it different

For the rich and for the poor

Published: Sunday 28 June 2015

Make it different

privatisation of drinking water is in full swing in both urban and rural areas of Gujarat. The water industry here is worth about Rs 1,500 crores and is amongst the fastest-growing. And now the water of the Narmada river is going to be supplied to urban areas at a far higher cost than municipal supply. The municipal authorities can now focus on the lower middle class and slum dwellers.

But when it comes to rural areas, privatisation assumes totally different ramifications. In Gujarat, tanker operators thrive at the cost of poor villagers. There is an urgent need for state intervention in infrastructure development. Once this is done, water installations should be managed and maintained by the community. In fact in many areas in the state, communities have shown great skill in managing water in drought years. The private sector will never be interested in extending operations to rural areas because the poor here do not have any purchasing power. So, the state cannot not wash its hands off.

A lot of interesting work is done in rural areas, in many parts of the country, on drinking water systems. Much of it has not been analysed adequately. Non-governmental organisations tend to over-romanticise traditional systems without rigorously documenting them. There are also many examples of viable water supply systems in urban and semi-urban areas. Popularising these and putting them into practice requires policy changes. But the government response has been lukewarm.

Apoorva Oza is with the Agha Khan Rural Support Programme in Gujarat

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