Nestle’s Syndrome: Who owns water?

Water supply to companies - Jan-Mar16
With water shortages becoming severe, not so surprisingly, authorities in Hyderabad continue to believe that there is no such situation. You ask them a question what emergency measures they are initiating, pat comes back the question, is there a shortage? It is not just a opinion, it is their belief. Otherwise, what else can explain the increasing supply of this precious resource to water-guzzling, profit making companies, in Hyderabad, and probably elsewhere. While taxpayers continue to pay loans and interests on water supply projects in Hyderabad, poor people continue to pay with their lives and others continue to ‘buy’ water, these companies are laughing their way to the bank.
With younger generation continuing to generate demand for their products, these companies can easily supply you an argument that they are ‘essential services’. A cash-strapped government would easily believe that revenue generation from liquor and soft drink sales is far more important, than providing water to all, and prevent ‘medical’ disasters. Liquor is value addition and GDP contributing commodity.
Elsewhere, in Maharashtra, people are agitating about water usage in IPL matches, and going to courts to stop such commercial extravaganza, where their concern is a mere 50 lakh litres probably, or less. In Hyderabad, just 7 companies get multiples of that each month. With summer, and possible spike in sales, their water requirement is also increasing, as per data collected by Mr. Manthrala Srinivas. There are individuals who would believe that these companies are not consuming for themselves, but for the people. Is this not the economy? Ofcourse, there is also the other economy. People without water, or with low water, or contaminated water, or ‘priced’ water, also contribute to the health care sector, corruption, black market, GSDP and what not. If they have the might, they can as well consume this ‘value-added’ water and contribute to the economic growth. Like birds, and numerous non-human life, these ‘fortunate’ people may leave this abode, permanently. the more number of people, leaving primary sector, wherever, it is always augurs well for the modern economy. If water, or lack of it, is a cause, so be it.
Authorities would not see this as a either or situation, either. With both Singur, Himayathsagar, Osmansagar, Nagarjunasagar drying up, ground water levels receding to newer and unreachable depths, cost on people, their lives and living, is still not issue or concern. There are no emergency measures, because they are yet to admit that there is an emergency. Numerous media stories can be brushed away, good samaritans anyway cannot do more than placarding or petitioning, opposition parties are busy finding ‘strategic loopholes’ which does not boomerang on them, and many others are waiting to be ‘recognised’ officially. In this context, water woes of ordinary women, old, children and disempowered cannot go beyond a print page or a news channel special. Cocooned in air-conditioned rooms, with water bottles on hand, one should be realist to realise the problems of not-so-fortunate.
Meanwhile, water mafia, comprising of politicians, officials and companies would grab lands, which has water, and water resources, through cash, technology and public resources, to make money. This is where commodification of natural resource and elixir of life began, and continues. “According to the former CEO and Chairman of Nestle, the largest food product manufacturer in the world, corporations should own every drop of water on the planet — and you’re not getting any unless you pay up.” Bureaucrats and politicians are actually practising this.
India has a National Water Policy, which says drinking water should get priority above anything else. But it is only on paper. It is not binding on Hyderabad Metro Water Board which deploys 200 out of 900 tankers to one particular area, where the rich and powerful, live. This is only one of the three other sources – 24 hours supply by pipelines and private tankers. Most images circulating on digital media shows that car washing, or flushing roads, with running water, continues. The word ‘recycling’ is still miles away – no one heard about it.
Private tankers usurp water from borewells dug in lands abutting or downstream of lakes and tanks in the suburb villages. Villagers do not get water because of this is no one’s concern, or money talks. Of the 340 million gallons per day, supposedly supplied by the public agency, there is no absolute figure on who gets how much. Hundreds of tankers, women and children with empty plastic containers and harsh sun shows that the supply is less and highly discriminating, than what is admitted. Water distribution in this hi-tech city, with huge GDP, is defined by might, and not right. It is not even comparable to a situation in a jungle.
On the other hand, government is worried that about lack of ‘hands’. For the past few years, Hyderabad Metro Water Board is headed by a IAS officer, who is already saddled with other important jobs. With the Chairman being the Chief Minister, top hierarchy is busy, on other aspects. Thirsty throats do not matter, even if they are few or more, like in the case of farmers suicides. If it is less, stock answer would be it is below their ‘radar’ and if it is more another stock answer can be population is the issue. Inheritance is another way out argument – ‘we inherited this, and we are not responsible’. This type of answer indicates that the current situation is borne out of a neglect in the past, and continuation of such chronic problems. There is no chance for another question, what about your emergency response?
Emergency response also does not end with supply of 182 MGD from Godavari, 200 kms north of Hyderabad. Emergency measures should be more, and continuous, until every parched throat is responded to. They should continue until rains come. They should include preparation for the worst (delay in monsoon rains), and for the best (capturing rainwater whenever it comes). But who is bothered. Hyderabad, like elsewhere in India, has water distribution agencies, and not water-generating institutions. It also does not have a manual on water emergencies. It does not have procedure for distributing less water equitably. Hyderabad lacks imagination and empathy. And, this is not a isolated case.

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