What right to whose water?

I write in Citizen Matters today about the futility of any right to water legislation:

(T)he provision of clean, adequate water to Bangalore’s residents has numerous challenges: resource management, administrative reform, infrastructure provision, financing and payment for scarce resources.

Will a legally enforceable right to water improve its provision in the city? Maybe a little, at the margin – in those few cases where accountability can be pinned to someone.

However, will the move for a right to water come with huge opportunity costs? Almost certainly. Each of the challenges listed above requires significant expenditure of political capital, it needs able leadership that can inspire sufficient trust in the city’s residents to walk them through the myriad challenges. Like the RTE, a right may come backed with funds from the union and state governments for adequate water provision, but again, the latter provision may be better achieved by forgoing the right and focusing instead on the attendant reforms.

Thanks to India’s overburdened courts, we have lost the right to justice while pursuing the right to education, food and more. No system can work if even 10 percent of the people have to approach the court for redressal. Rights are relevant when defaults are rare, possibly malicious and are within the capacity of the judicial system to enforce. Water supply provision hardly meets this criterion.

Spending public time and political capital on a morally superior right instead of a genuine effort at reforms is counterproductive. While pursuing the right to water, the chance at its universal provision may be lost.
[Citizen Matters, 25 July 2013]

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