A proposed new law on water promises to give every person the right to a minimum amount of “safe water”, while making the state “obliged” to “protect” and conserve water.
The draft National Water Framework Bill says every person would be entitled to “water for life” that shall not be denied to anyone on the ground of inability to pay. It defines this “water for life” as that basic requirement that is necessary for the “fundamental right of life of each human being, including drinking, cooking, bathing, sanitation, personal hygiene and related personal and domestic uses”. This would also include the additional requirement for women “for their special needs” and the water required by domestic livestock.
This minimum water requirement would be determined by the “appropriate” governments from time to time.
The draft law, prepared by the Water Resources Ministry, is being proposed as a model legislation that can be adopted by states, since water is in the jurisdiction of the state governments. The Water Resources Ministry has invited comments and suggestions on the draft from the public.
A separate draft Bill for ‘Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of Groundwater’ has also been prepared and put in the public domain for suggestions.
The ministry has said there was a need for a “broad national consensus” on issues related to water. Divergences of policies on water were “inevitable” and “acceptable” at the level of states, but these need to be within “reasonable limits” set by this national consensus, it has said.
The draft law tries to build a comprehensive governance structure on water, dealing with its conservation and preservation, regulation of use, pollution prevention and abatement, pricing, administration, and river and aquifer management. It says that the state “at all levels” would hold water “in public trust” for the people, and “water for life” would take precedence over all other uses, including agricultural, industrial and commercial.
“It shall be the duty of the state at all levels, the citizens, and all category of water users to protect, preserve and conserve water sources, and pass them on to the next generation,” it says.
The proposed law wants to introduce a “graded pricing system” for domestic water supply, with full cost recovery pricing for high-income groups, “affordable pricing” for middle-income, and a “certain quantum of free supply” to the poor. Alternatively, a minimal quantum of water may be supplied free to all.
A “binding” national water quality standards for every kind of use is proposed to be introduced. A “binding” national water footprint standards for “every activity or product” are also sought to be evolved. The draft law says it would be the “duty” of everyone to strive towards reducing their “water footprint”.
Industries, in particular, will be asked to state their water footprint in their annual reports, along with an action plan to progressively reduce it over time. “There shall be prohibitive penalties to discourage profligate use, with denial of water supply services beyond a threshold…,” a provision related to industrial use of water says.
Recognising that water in all its forms “constitutes a hydrological unity”, the draft law asks governments to strive for rejuvenation of river systems by ensuring Aviral Dhara (continuous flow), Nirmal Dhara (unpolluted flow), and Swachh Kinara (clean and aesthetic river banks). An integrated river basin development and management plan in each of the basins is supposed to be drawn up, and all water-resource projects in that basin or its sub-basins need to conform to that plan.
To deal with inter-state water disputes, the draft law proposes the establishment of “appropriate institutional arrangements”. “The upper basin state shall adopt a cautious and minimalist approach to major interventions in the inter-state rivers…,” it says, while stressing that none of the states in a basin “owns the river”.