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Oppose Water Privatisation in Karnataka

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Protest Statement against anti-people water policies of Karnataka and the US Water Trade Mission (28 Feb - 4 Mar)

We write to express our deepest concern and disappointment over the continuing support of the Government of Karnataka to the policy of Commodification and Privatisation of Water. This is in complete disregard and contravention of the Constitutional Guarantee of Right of Access to Water as an integral part of the Right to Live.

Karnataka Chief Minister Mr. Yeddurappa has pitched the 2011 Budget as pro-people and pro-farmer. However, agencies connected with the Urban Development Ministry of the Karnataka Government, such the Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (KUIDFC), Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Board (KUWSSB) and Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) are actively preparing to receive a delegation of 16 American Corporations. These Corporations are advocating that “water resources that are allocated to the agricultural sector” be minimised as part of “water conservation” efforts and are intending to exploit business opportunities to provide “safe water for personal consumption and for industrial use”. All this is considered to be part of their intent of capture the proclaimed US$50 billion water market in India. Such commodification of water attacks Constitutional Guarantees and the participation of State agencies in such a programme exposes the emptiness of the Chief Minister's claims that the Government works for common people.

The Mission Statement of the US Water Trade Mission to India 2011 which backs this visit also intends to exploit opportunities that “bypass the inadequate municipal system” so that “US water and waste water technology companies initiate and/or expand their exports to India …. (and) find best opportunities in sanitation, urban water supply improvement, rainwater capture, and municipal waste treatment.” The Trade Mission thus treats with contempt our Constitution and Constitutionally elected bodies.

Karnataka Urban Development Minister opposed Water Privatisation, and then retracts:

To press for withdrawing support to the impending Trade Mission (28 Feb-4 March, 2011), we met with Shri. Suresh Kumar, Urban Development Minister on 23 February 2011, which involved the participation of senior officials from KUIDFC and BWSSB. At that time Shri. Kumar categorically stated that he was opposed to privatization of water, and also asserted that Karnataka Government would never allow commodification and privatization of drinking water. However, Mr. Kumar has later reinterpreted his commitment against water privatization on his blog, by claiming that we are confused about our understanding of the nature of privatization of water, and that “there is a distinct difference between privatization and private participation”; thus attempting to promote the view that our concerns are not reasonable and tenable.

But facts speak otherwise. What emerged in the meeting with Mr. Kumar was that neither he as Minister of the State nor the BWSSB or KUIDFC or any of the other agencies of the State assisting the US Water Trade Mission, had at all been formally approached by the US Consul General or the US Commerce Ministry as per protocol and to seek permission for such a Trade Mission. Mr. Kumar read out an email that had been received only recently by BWSSB where the US Consul General merely intimated the agency of the impending Water Trade Missions, sought entry into various water facilities and meetings with various agencies and local official. If this is not evidence of the scant respect the US Government has demonstrated for a Minister and Government agencies, what is?

Karnataka Policy Promotes Water Privatisation Unconstitutionally:

We addressed Mr. Kumar with our fundamental concern that such Water Trade Missions are encouraged because of because of the Karnataka Urban Drinking Water and Sanitation Policy, 2002. The basic objective of this policy is to “ensure universal coverage of water and sanitation services that people want and are willing to pay for”. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to demonstrate that in a State with a majority of the urban population being poor, that people want to and can afford to pay for drinking water. The fact that they are coerced to out of sheer necessity should never have been used as a basis for arguing in favouring of willingness to pay.

Based on such spurious and unsubstantiated claims, parastatal and publicly unaccountable agencies such as BWSSB, KUWSSB, KUIDFC, etc. have been systematically promoting projects that privatise supply of drinking water. Without any substantive debate, or deliberate, prior and informed consent, these agencies have coerced Municipal Councils into agreeing to privatise drinking water services, to the detriment of the community, especially the poor.

The policy also promotes the role of the State to be one of organizing bulk water resources so that the distribution of drinking water would be parceled out to the private sector based on ”commercial viability of operations to recover from the users of water the full cost of providing service”. This with the clear and categorical intent of establishing an “appropriate cost recovery mechanism through adequate tariff to ensure that revenues cover operations and maintenance costs, debt service plus a reasonable return on capital” favouring the private investor. With such a sweet deal there is absolutely no business risk to invest in the “water market” as they State absorbs all such costs. 

US Water Trade Mission out to make money out of Peoples Drinking Water needs:

It is no surprise then, that a fundamental life sustaining resource is now being perceived by American corporations as a 50 billion dollar business opportunity. The US Water Trade Mission clarifies that it is the objective of the American Government to “assist US companies to seize (such) export opportunities in (the water) sector”.

We are extremely distressed that the Karnataka Government under Mr. Yeddyurappa's leadership is resorting to doublespeak. While proclaiming the purpose of governance to be pro-poor and pro-farmer, and even as Mr. Suresh Kumar claims that he is opposed to privatization of water, why then are Government agencies supporting the US Water Trade Mission. This when their stated objective is to overlook Constitutional Guarantees, belittle elected representatives and elected bodies, while also questioning our traditional and scientific wisdom of provisioning and supplying drinking water for all. It is because of this duplicitous position that it is critical that the government make a clear and categorical statement distancing the Government from the US Water Trade Mission, and only such a move will reassure the public. A further step that is essential is to repeal the Karnataka Urban Water Policy that paves way for such illegal efforts to take over our water, and commodify and trade with our life sustaining resources and our commons.

We can solve our water problem without privatisation.  Only political will and transparency are required:

As has been demonstrated by Karnataka State Council of Science and Technology by rainwater proofing 16,000 public schools (a world record), and thus providing drinking water, we have all the skill, capacity and traditional knowledge of harvesting rain. If only the Government were to come down heavily on polluters everywhere, it is only a matter of years before our rivers, lakes and village ponds will be brimming with clean water. If the Government introduced a strong legislation to regulate the ongoing reckless mining of ground and surface water resources by water mafias, and not support anyone in the government who are engaged in this criminal trade, not only would this build water security but the trust of people as well.

There is sufficient intelligence and capacity within our State’s communities to build water security, and thereby social and ecological security. For this to be realised Karnataka Government needs to establish Constitutionally mandated District and Metropolitan Planning Committees based on representation from local elected bodies and other local expertise and act in a publicly accountable, transparent and representative manner in planning the utilisation of natural resource as required per the Nagarapalika Act. Such bodies in collaboration with local elected municipal bodies must be entrusted with the task of deciding matters relating to provisioning of the drinking water needs for all. Consequently, agencies such as KUWSSB, KUIDFC, etc., whose main intent seems to be to recklessly and criminally pave the way for global private water corporations to make money out of our life sustaining resource, must be abolished.


  1. It is the constitutional responsibility of the State as Custodian to protect water as our commons. In addition, the State must promote policies and practices that advance equity in access and distribution of water based on sound principle of ecological and social justice.

  2. The Karnataka Urban Drinking Water and Sanitation Policy 2002 must be repealed and the State must own up and undertake its obligatory functions of providing safe drinking water for all as per the Constitution of India.

  3. The Operation and Maintenance (O and M) of water services in Hubli, Dharwad, Belgaum and Gulbarga has been undemocratically handed over to Veolia, a multi-national French company. The entire water services in Mysore have also been given away to JUSCO, a TATA Company. Such privatisation practices must immediately be remunicipalised. Consequently, the State must put an end to any ongoing or future efforts of privatising water and sanitation services across Karnataka.

  4. The campaign demands that the US Water Trade Mission to Bangalore be canceled. If the Trade Mission still persists on coming to Bangalore, there should not be any participation of elected representatives and any State agencies in such an illegal mission. Any such participation would amount to Government's solidarity with the American programme to commodify and control our waters, to the detriment of the Karnataka and its people.

  5. Thousands of public taps that have been removed to ensure a monopoly by water companies resulting in devastating impacts on the lives of the poor should be immediately restored and safe and sufficient drinking water must be supplied to poorer localities immediately.

Issued by:

Peoples' Campaign for Right to Water and Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (Karnataka State Farmers Association)

Peoples' Campaign for Right to Water

Issac Arul Selva
Slum Jagatthu

Kshithij Urs-
Action Aid

Leo Saldanha
Environment Support Group


Peoples' Campaign for Right to Water and Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (Karnataka State Farmers Association)


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