Access to water, community ownership, drinking water supply, privatisation, right to water, state run services, structural adjustment, Swajaldhara, water policy, water sector reforms
Since the ascent of economic liberalisation in the 1990s, Washington Consensus policies – exemplified by structural adjustment and reform – have become the norm across the globe. As a result the State redefines its role from that of a provider of basic services to a ‘facilitator’ that enables access to these services. Resources like water, energy, health and education are now called socio-economic goods that people must own and maintain on their own. Increasingly in all service sectors – energy, health, education or water-‘demand-driven’ projects formulated and executed by ‘user committees’ that are supposed to establish ‘community ownership’ through initial cost-sharing with all operations and maintenance costs borne by the users. Added to this, establishment of independent regulatory commissions, like those witnessed in the power sector, mean that citizens can no longer hold the State accountable for securing basic services for citizens.
Reforms in the rural drinking water sector in India were adopted in 1999 through the Sector Reform Project (SRP) on a pilot basis and have been scaled up throughout the country in the form of Swajaldhara launched on 25th December 2002. It is premised on a demand-responsive approach where the community initially mobilises 10 per cent of the cost of the project demanded by it and the rest of the funds are contributed by Government of India (GoI). So far five phases of Swajaldhara have commenced on the official understanding that these would achieve a high degree of participation and community control that would meet the needs of water for all. Very often, the socio-political dynamic of a context alters significantly how policies and schemes are implemented and what they achieve for their intended beneficiaries.
A survey of 28 villages in Rajsamand and and Bhilwara districts of Rajasthan and 7 villages in Osmanabad and Latur districts of Maharashtra raises questions that need to be investigated if the right to water for all is to be realised. This paper will draw upon the findings of this survey to explore the dynamic between the Scheme and its ability to realise the right to water in an equitable and just manner. The parameters of Swajaldhara, the socio-political context and the process of implementation including bureaucratic practice will be examined to critique the rural drinking water policy of the Indian State and its underlying premise of Structural Adjustment.
(2007) 3(2) Law, Environment and Development Journal 101