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Landscape of PPPs in water services: water rights at stake?

With the rise of the New Public Management and an international consensus on modernization of public services (Zerah & Jaglin 2011), the onus of delivering water services has been gradually shifting away from the domain of the state to the private sector. Private sector participation in urban development was opened up through the 7th Five year Plan (Batra 2009). Consecutively, 8th FY plan placed emphasis on treating water as a commodity. Not surprisingly, the thrust of 10th FY plan was promotion of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in urban infrastructure services. It also highlights that JNNURM was launched to set the role of the state as a facilitator. The 11th FY Plan went a step ahead in talking about creating an environment to initiate private sector investment and establish regulatory framework for overseeing private as well as public sector.

To add to this shift to the private sector from the public, stands the rapid pace of urbanization, which, as the New Urban Agenda highlights, puts undue burden on existing natural resources. Hence, the concerns for managing water services remains immense. The concern is much more when there is a need to address the needs of the poor to ensure equity and justice related to water distribution. However what seems to be the case in water management is undue involvement of private sector through Public Private Partnerships in water service delivery. The same has been highly advocated by related policies, which limit the fundamental role of the state as a service provider.

National Water Policy (NWP) 2012 goes on to say that the “Service Provider” role of the state has to be gradually shifted to that of a regulator of services and facilitator for strengthening the institutions responsible 
for planning, implementation and management of water resources. Moreover the recent, National Water Framework Bill 2016 mentions about delegating water services to a private agency but interestingly negates the delegation as a constituent of privatization of water. NWP 2002 encourages private sector participation in planning, development and management of water resources projects. With the onset of JNNURM a large emphasis has been given to enhancing urban water supply systems and encouraging PPPs (Zerah & Jaglin 2011).

While the intent for distributional equity is quite clear from the water policies but what stands contested is the intrinsic and fundamental value of profit making attached with private operators. It is to be understood that the central focus of PPP is performance and not merely provision or facility of services (Bakker 2003). Hence they have not been successful in serving the poor (Zerah & Jaglin 2011). Though it is stated that water PPPs are a viable option in developing countries yet they are not suited to all situations nor can they be envisaged in all situations (Marin 2009). Thus, the undue involvement of the private sector in water services delivery essentially undermines the fundamental right to water.

  1. Bakker, K. 2003. Archipelagos and Networks: Urbanization and Water Privatization in the South, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 169, No. 4 (Dec, 2003), pp. 328-341
  2. Batra, L. (2009). A Review of Urbanization and Urban Policy in post-independent India, Working Paper Series, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance (CSLG/WP/12), JNU, New Delhi
  3. Marin Ph. (2009). ‘Public-Private Partnerships for Urban Water Utilities. A Review of Experiences in Developing Countries’, Washington, The World Bank/PPIAF, p. 191
  4. Zerah, H.M. and Jaglin. S. (2011) Water in cities: Rethinking services in Transformation in India Infrastructure Report 2011 Water Policy and Performance for Sustainable Development, Oxford University Press, pp 260-273

By Manish Maskara


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