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DRAFT 2012
“There is no structure or coherence, no overarching perspectives”
Ramaswamy R. Iyer, Former Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources sees the new water policy as a patchwork quilt
Issue Date - 30/05/2012
B&E: The government has come out with a new National Water Policy draft. Being the architect of the first National Water Policy (1987), how do you view the amendments made to the existing policy in the new draft?
Ramaswamy Iyer (RI): I would say a mixed one. In some ways the present draft is a slight improvement on the 2002 Policy, but it’s no more than slight. The basic beliefs underlying the new water policy are the well-known ones that constitute conventional wisdom: variations in rainfall over time and space, a vastly increased demand for water, crisis in availability; need for more storage, inter-basin transfers and long-distance water transfers because of the occurrence of floods and drought, and so on. To those basic propositions, some of the new ideas (such as environmental concerns, demand management, sustainability, equity, etc.) have been added. At the same time, other ideas of a fundamentally different kind, such as water as an economic good, market forces, privatisation or private sector participation, economic pricing on full-cost-recovery basis, have also been incorporated. The result: It’s a patchwork quilt. There is no structure or coherence, no overarching perspectives.

B&E: You seem to suggest that the government lost its way somewhere in between. Where exactly did it falter?
RI: A full understanding of the complexity and multidimensionality of water should be the starting point. I find that missing. The recognition of basic or lifeline water as a fundamental right is not sufficiently strong in the draft. The question of conflicts between fundamental rights and non-fundamental rights, the danger to fundamental rights from contractual or economic rights, etc, are not gone into. The Policy draft also fails to recognise that we cannot simply assert a number of propositions without considering their inter-relationships and possible contradictions. For instance, how can we affirm river basins as the basis for planning and at the same time advocate inter-basin transfers, except of course as a rare and exceptional route? How can we simultaneously advocate community participation, public trust, privatisation, PPP, etc, without thinking their inter-relationships? Can we say that water is a life right and also an economic good to be priced on a full-cost-recovery basis? Or combine democratic decentralisation under the 73rd and 74th amendments with state-level WRRAs? I am not saying that all these are instances of internal contradiction, but that the implications of these have certainly not been thought through.

B&E: The policy draft states that inter-basin transfers of flood waters to recharge depleting ground waters in water stressed areas should be encouraged. Do you agree?
RI: I am in complete disagreement with this. Inter-basin transfers must be rare and exceptional, and must be discouraged rather than encouraged; encouragement will destroy the motivation for economical use. Prudent, economical, conflict-free intra-basin utilisation must be explored to the fullest extent. This must include local rainwater-harvesting and groundwater use as appropriate. It is only thereafter that water from outside the basin should be considered. Such transfers cannot be mandated; they must be based on agreement.



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