The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Orissa row on water projects

Bhubaneswar, June 28: The state government has been forced to rephrase its water policy draft which stated that there would be “participation of private parties for development and management of water resources”.

The policy draft, which came up for discussion yesterday, says the private participation entails “building, owning, operating and leasing and transferring” of water resources.

Many MPs and MLAs at the meeting, including those from the ruling Biju Janata Dal and the BJP, objected to the draft clause on private participation.

Sociologist Rita Ray opposed the draft, saying power privatisation hasn’t fetched tangible results and that people were likely to suffer if water was privatised. “There would be scope for further exploitation,” she said.

Kalahandi BJP MP B.K. Deo and BJD legislator Debi Mishra also demanded that the clause be dropped.

With opposition to the draft growing, water resources secretary B.K. Patnaik said the clause would be reworded.

“When we included the clause, we had in mind private partners for building medium irrigation projects as the state’s resources may not meet the same. But if anyone thinks that water will be privatised, it is a misplaced fear.”

Patnaik said he has asked experts to suggest alternative phrasing within a week. The final draft will be placed before the state Cabinet for approval in a month.

The draft, an update of a 1994 policy, says private sector participation will help introduce innovative ideas, generate financial resources, introduce corporate management and improve service efficiency. Besides, it will ensure accountability. According to the draft, the government would welcome private participation for development and management of water resource projects for “diverse uses, wherever feasible”.

Radha Mohan, an NGO worker, said the clause was unnecessary. But B.P. Das, a former chief engineer at the water resources department and a UN expert, said the clause should be retained, arguing that there will be a funds crunch in future in the water sector. Das had a key role in drafting the policy.

Agriculture production commissioner Sanjiv Hota, who chaired the meeting, said: “People should not think water is a free gift. It’s a saleable commercial product.”

Orissa receives an average of 1,482 mm rainfall from the southwest monsoon, but Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput districts frequently face droughts.

Environmentalists fear water privatisation may lead to a Bolivia-like situation, where people rioted in protest at the decision. Environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty cited the examples of African nations like Niger, Benin and Angola, adding: “I shudder to think what would happen in a poor state like Orissa once private…companies come in.”

The document says management of water resources for diverse uses should involve various governmental agencies as well as the users, stakeholders and NGOs in an “effective and decisive manner”.

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