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Indian Water Activists Launch Anti-Privatization Campaign
by Rahul Kumar
Entered into the database on Tuesday, February 07th, 2006 @ 14:22:20 MST


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CPM activists demonstrating against water scarcity at the Delhi Secretariat in the Capital, 2003. (Photo: The Delhi Tribune)

Water activists and non governmental organizations in north and central India have joined hands to fight water privatization initiatives by Indian state governments, oppose World Bank funding, discourage the $200 billion river-linking project, encourage conservation and provide for alternative water policies.

In a Press Conference on Thursday nearly a dozen non governmental organizations working on water rights, conservation and activism announced the launch of a campaign to save India’s most pious holy river – Ganga. The campaign begins on February 28 with a penance and an apology to river Ganga from a Hindu temple in the hill township of Tehri, about 400 kms north of Indian capital New Delhi.

Giving the reasons for launching the campaign, chairperson of the Research Foundation of Science Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) Vandana Shiva, said: “Government policies, globalization and massive funding for water projects in the name of water reforms will take away water from the poor to the rich. Mega projects cannot bring water to people, but can definitely take it away from them.”

The activists stressed that their campaign will bring water democracy by ensuring that every drop is conserved, harvested and shared by people. “Water is a commons. Our fight is for water as a common resource. We condemn every policy that makes water a commodity of the State,” Shiva thundered.

Well known Indian conservation movement - Chipko Aandolan’s Sunderlal Bahuguna said: “The creator of the holy Ganga - the Gangotri glacier – has decreased and a desert is coming up in the mountains. I believe that tree-felling in the Himalayas and global warming are shrinking the glacier. I have stopped eating rice because paddy harvesting consumes a lot of water.”

“Dams are thought to be a source of water but these are a temporary source. These have a short life span and once a dam gets filled up with sand and silt, it is rendered useless and has to be abandoned. Unfortunately dams are being constructed as these provide for a good construction business,” Bahuguna lamented.

He hit out at the massive river linking scheme of the Indian government which he felt will leave the rivers polluted and depleted. He added that perennial rivers like the Yamuna and the Ganga will not have any water left because of such projects therefore such schemes have to be opposed by people.

The river linking project, announced by the Indian government in 2003, plans to divert water from surplus rivers to rivers which are deficit. The project is being promoted for increasing the irrigation potential and controlling floods and plans to link up the Himalayan rivers as well as rivers in peninsular India.

India’s first river linking project – the Ken-Betwa Link – came in for scathing criticism from the activists. Bhartendu Prakash from the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh said: “Corporates are eyeing the two rivers – Ken and Betwa. Their linking will lead to water logging in some regions while creating a water deficit in others. Also nearly half of the famous Panna Tiger Reserve will drown because of other water and power related projects.”

Prakash said: “People would have to be relocated and rehabilitated, which would cause many other problems. These projects on the two rivers are disastrous from the ecological, humanitarian and cultural aspects and will destroy all kinds of life in central India. A fraud is being thrusted on the people in that the Ken-Betwa project will do wonders for them.”

Water policies recently adopted by states like Maharashtra and Rajasthan were condemned by the speakers. Shiva said: “The governments in India are buckling under pressure from the World Bank. But we will protest against privatization all over the country – whether in Delhi, Rajasthan or Maharashtra. These policies help declare water as a state property which later facilitates its conversion into private property.”

Chairperson of Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS) Rajendra Singh added that a community-based water system that had existed for centuries and had successfully conserved water has been taken over by the government and ripped apart. He said: “Our leaders have not understood the global politics of water in which MNCs will make profits while people will pay a heavy price for water.”

Giving an insight into the scuttling of the process of privatization of water in Delhi, SA Naqvi from the Water Workers Alliance’s said: “Many people think that the Delhi government and the World Bank have cancelled the process of privatizing water in Delhi due to sustained lobbying and agitations. The fact is that the loan application by the Delhi government to the World Bank is on hold and has not been cancelled. Until it is cancelled we cannot be sure that we have won the war against privatization in Delhi.”

Naqvi added that water activists will now work on providing alternatives to water policies so that the government as well as the people can be made to believe that ways other than privatization exist in managing the country’s water resources.

Other people who addressed the press conference included the Chairperson of Paani Morcha (Water Front) Sureshwar Sinha and Gandhi Peace Foundation’s Anupam Mishra. The activists have decided to hold water parliaments in all those cities in India where people are grappling with either scarce water resources or polluted water.