Wednesday, May 28, 2003
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By Our Special Correspondent
The meeting, organised jointly by the Ministry of Water Resources and the Confederation of Indian Industry, was focussed on not only ensuring full cost of recovery to the investor but also the availability of raw material (river water).
The Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, struck a different note by saying that rivers and forests were under social, collective ownership in the pre-British period. However, in British India, water became the property of the government and the attitude of people changed from preservation to profligacy multiplying expectations.
"Somewhere along we got lost and the relationship that citizens had with water was lost. The essence here is revival of the connection between citizens and water. It is an issue that must not be delayed," he said.
On a lighter note, he said: "all rivers finally flow into the Ministry of Finance and you have our support".
Emphasising the need for involvement of local communities in the ownership and maintenance of water resources, the chairman of Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, Gaj Singh, said the private sector had a clear role to play in addressing the problems in urban areas.
The Minister for Water Resources, Arjun Charan Sethi, stressed the need for initiation of public-private partnership right from the planning stage. An important related issue was requirement for setting up a regulatory framework to oversee the needs of the sector. He said he was glad there were no customs or excise duty for treatment of water.
Making out a case for private participation, Arun Bharat Ram, industrialist, said that to make up the lack of resources with the Government, the commercialisation of water supply sector was imperative. However, certain preconditions were necessary such as stakeholder support, political commitment, cost recovery and pricing, comprehensive information base and a regulatory framework.
According to him, low income households, particularly in villages, who could not afford house connection, would prefer to pay a higher cost to get efficient and sustained services. In cities, private participation could improve the quality of services.
The Water Resources Secretary, A.K. Goswami, while endorsing public-private participation said the service provider should ensure costs and profits at a reasonable level and should be able to convince the people. The "pitfalls" were the scale of profit, the issue of monopolies for which a regulatory mechanism must be in place. "The private sector will have to show a strong sense of social responsibility and self-control," he added.
Radha Singh, Additional Secretary, Water Resources, suggested that the Constitution be amended to enable the Centre to play a more effective role in solving inter-State disputes.
M.S. Rathore of the Institute of Development Studies wanted the national water policy to be amended to include water laws. He said by bringing in private participation in the water sector, the Government was ridding itself of its responsibility. The private sector had shown itself not to be accountable.
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