The contentious draft National Water Framework Bill promising the right to water was uploaded on the Union Water Resources Ministry’s website on Monday seeking comments from the public. Several states have opposed the law citing infringement of their rights, as water is a state subject. But the ministry has rightly gone ahead and sought more views to beef up the draft bill. The states must realise that the decreasing per capita availability of water and the spectre of climate change is reason enough for the Centre to intervene and frame a beneficial rights-based law in the national interest.

Like the states, the bill applies the greater-good principle to individuals too. With groundwater depletion plumbing dangerous depths, the community will regulate its members’ use of ground water. The state will pitch in with technical inputs on groundwater levels, water quality, and local aquifer maps.

But the bill’s revolutionary provision is the right of every individual to a minimum quantity of potable water within easy reach of the household, which shall not be less than 25 litres per day. The draft bill also recognises the importance of a participatory approach and the importance of strong technological and management support if water harvesting measures are to succeed.

But time is running short. The UPA government is at the fag end of an uninterrupted nine-year-rule and several ministries are rolling out populist legislations. This bill is different and deserves a chance to be debated and passed. India has 16 per cent of the world’s population but just 4 per cent of the water resources. The National Water Policy of 1987, 2002 and 2012 recognised this problem and offered solutions. But it was only in 2012 that the government realised that the policies did not have legal status and were not binding on the states.

Today, a veritable industry has developed around water scarcity. Borewells, submersible pumps, and water tankers are the reality today. In urban and rural India, the states have abdicated their responsibility to supply water and monitor quality. The bill’s vision of assuring the citizen of 25 litres of water daily is impossible to meet with the current infrastructure and poor water availability.

The comparison with another rights-based approach, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education that came into effect in 2010, is inevitable. The lofty aims of the Act have suffered in the face of a public education systems suffering from years of neglect in the states. Left to the vagaries of centre-state relations, water laws will also meet the same fate. The need of the hour is to recognise the crisis and rise above technicalities and competitive politics.

Courtesy: dna