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Apr 27 2007
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Indian Express, Mumbai

Friday, April 27, 2007

*Activists voice doubts over World Bank water initiatives *

Express News Service

Mumbai, April 26: In a bid to gain a hold over the escalating water crisis, the World Bank (WB) has stepped in to bail Mumbai out. But activists from Mumbai Paani (MP) and Focus on the Global South (FGS) remain skeptical, as they claim the efforts could prove disadvantageous for the city.

The need to keep water supply affordable and in public hands was stressed on by the various speakers during a press meet at Azad Maidan on April 26.

Mumbai’s K-east ward was selected for a pilot project for water privatisation through a Water Distribution Improvement Project (WDIP). Subsequently, Castalia, a French consulting firm was appointed by the Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF), an arm of the WB, against a grant of US $ 692,500 to study, design and develop a model to effectively battle water issues and work towards an efficient 24X7 supply of water.

While Castalia is supposed to submit its report to the BMC on May 15, Kalpana Gawde a K-East resident and campaigner for awareness on the Water Privatisation issue says, “I have not seen a single surveyor in our area till date. What do they plan to finish in a month?” The definition of ‘privatisation’ comes under debate as the BMC maintains that this does not necessarily entail actual transfer of its water or water assets to any private organisation. But the terms of reference of the agreement between the WB, Castalia and PPIAF give the BMC no authority to take independent decisions without WB’s nod.

Universally, water privatisation drives have often left havoc in their wake. In Delhi, the plan to privatise water was introduced to the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) by the PPIAF. But citizens found discrepancies in the process and raised a hue and cry. “Only when we mounted pressure on the Chief Minister was some measures taken to stall the proceedings of privatisation,” says Rakhi Sehgal of New Delhi’s Right to Water Campaign.

Similar initiatives have been undertaken in Mumbai said Janak Daftari, IITian and activist. “Castalia has no expertise in water distribution reforms. Why does the World Bank insist on them?” he comments.

“Simply because Castalia specialises in preparing foolproof documents which are essential if the private sector needs to participate”, answers TV Shah, retd. Hydraulic engineer BMC and member of Hydraulic Engineers’ Association. He added that K-east ward was selected not because it is the highest revenue earner but because it shows greater diversity of residents and terrain within a single ward. He conceded that the BMC was also toying with the idea of prepaid water meters.

Also present were Julian Perez from Bolivia’s Ministry of Water.

Leke Rahenge Hum Apna Paani, a Hindi translation of “Reclaiming Public Water: Achievments, Struggles and Visions from Around the world” was also released at the meet.

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