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Apr 26 2007
Supplied or written by Willy
The Hindu, New Delhi
26 April, 2007

War waged against water privatisation

Smriti Kak Ramachandran

NEW DELHI: Citing the example of Bolivia, where customers had to pay 440 dollars -- equal to eight months' salary of an average citizen -- to get a water connection, activists waging a war against privatisation of water on Wednesday said the Government must think of viable models instead of opting for privatisation of the basic, essential utility.

Attacking governments across the world for considering privatisation as a panacea for water woes, Olivier Hoedeman, member of the Corporate Europe Observatory, an Amsterdam-based voluntary organisation, said: "There is reluctance on the part of the governments to see beyond privatisation. There are so many other options, so many models of public participation that can be explored. Privatisation has proved to be a failure."

Urging India to emulate countries that have "people-centred, participatory public models", Mr. Hoedeman along with his counterparts from Bolivia and the United Kingdom is here in the country to sensitise policy makers about the problems of privatisation.

He said the Indian Government should draw lessons from Bolivia and Venezuela, where the Governments were forced to cancel the privatisation deals following widespread public protests.

"There have been several models of people-centred, participatory public models that have been successful in places like Cochabamba in Bolivia, in Argentina and Brazil. India, too, should encourage transparency, public scrutiny, public participation in decision-making," he added.

Claiming that privatisation fails to protect the rights of the consumers, Julian Perez of Bolivia said: "Privatisation is for earning profits, it does not care for public satisfaction. In Cochabama the tariffs rose by 300 per cent after privatisation of water."

The activists were also critical of the practice of seeking World Bank consultancy. "It makes more sense to take the advice of water users rather than World Bank consultants who may not even be aware of the reality of the area they are dealing with," Mr. Hoedeman said.

Tamsyn East, Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer of the World Development Movement, UK, said her organisation had been critical of the British Government's move to fund water privatisation policies.

The activists said there was a need to create an "integrated approach" which would address the issues of usage in rural, urban, industrial and agricultural areas.

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