• 14/01/2004

our public sector water providers in cities are bankrupt and cannot augment water resources nor extend networks to the periphery. This is because the rich are subsidised and unaccounted for water is high. Bangalore has been able to get a water augmentation scheme only because the Japanese Development Bank has been generous enough to give its water authority a loan.

What is the way out then? Do we privatise water supplies then? If so, how?

There should be a regulatory framework in place first. The regulator must be fully empowered to balance social justice requirements with efficiency and cost considerations. Look at the privatisation models in Cochabamba, Bolivia and Manila, Phillipines. They have failed. It is critical we learn the right lessons from these experiences and not reject the model outright. I do not avocate concessions to the private sector in the water sector. At the same time, the sector's participation in areas such as billing, new technology and design are essential.

I think that the citizen vs consumer and public good vs private good issue will be debates of the future. Governments will need to dedicate a part of their budget as capital subsidies for the poor. This should be routed through efficient public service providers. The 74th amendment to the Constitution demands handing water over to local authorities. Today, local authorities such as municipalities clearly lack capacity to manage water efficiently. They should be given guidance in this respect. Also, state bodies must be more accountable.

S Vishwanath runs Rainwater Club, a Bangalore-based non-governmental organisation

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