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Right To Safe Water

Right To Safe Water

Are you as a citizen sure that the air you are breathing and the water you are drinking is safe?

Well, not only atmospheric air is unhealthy in our metros - especially in Delhi, where the air quality has been oscillating between severe and poor category - but a new report that tap water supplied in 15 out of 21 major cities and state capitals is unsafe seems to have stirred another controversy.

Beyond the war of words between the Delhi Chief Minister and Union Consumer Affairs Minister, the issue has generated several debates. On November 16, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan while releasing Water Quality Report for State Capitals and Delhi as analyzed by the Bureau of Indian Standards had reportedly stated that the objective was not to demotivate anyone but rather encourage State Governments to ensure quality potable tap water is provided to all.

Water in India continues to be a State subject even as the Ashok Chawla Committee in 2011 favoured the need for a comprehensive national legislation on water either by bringing it in the Concurrent List or through a legal framework for treating it as a unified common resource. State Governments are responsible for water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power.

With the formation of the Union ‘Jal Shakti' Ministry, following the merger of  erstwhile ministries of Water Resources and Drinking Water and Sanitation in line with BJP’s election promise to form an integrated ministry to deal with water issues, the mandate to provide clean drinking water to everyone is a noble initiative.

However, to ensure clean and safe drinking water is made available to all, the Department of Consumer Affairs had commissioned a study through the BIS on the quality of piped drinking water being supplied in the country besides rank the States, Smart Cities and Districts based on the quality of tap water.

Water samples accordingly drawn from across various locations in Delhi and other States sent for testing for organoleptic, physical, chemical, toxic substances and bacteriological tests found that a vast majority of such samples failed to comply with BIS specifications on one or more parameters.

In Delhi, all the 11 samples drawn from various places did not comply with the BIS requirements and failed on several parameters whereas all the 10 samples drawn from Mumbai were found to comply with such requirements. Although in Hyderabad, Bhubaneshwar, Ranchi, Raipur, Amravati and Shimla, one or more samples did not comply with the BIS requirements, none of the samples drawn in Chandigarh, Thiruvananthapuram, Patna, Bhopal, Guwahati, Bengaluru, Gandhinagar, Lucknow, Jammu, Jaipur, Dehradun, Chennai and Kolkata complied with BIS requirements.

With the National Capital Delhi slated to go in for polls next February, Delhi Government was quick to allege about the gross irregularities as far as the process of water sample collection in Delhi was concerned. According to the Aam Aadmi Party which is in power in Delhi, some 2300 areas in the City had been facing water-related issues before it came to power and the number now stands reduced to 117. Further in a sequel, it has engaged an independent agency to collect samples from the very 11 places where BIS collected water samples and the results are to be put in public domain within 48 hours.

Although the alarm bells are ringing, some studies undertaken earlier had also indicated we drink unsafe water. The prevalence of Uranium concentration above 30 micro-gram per litre was observed in a report brought out by Duke University, USA in association with Central Ground Water Board and State Ground Water departments. Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir had localised occurrence of Uranium concentration. Particularly in Haryana’s Bhiwani, Fatehabad, Hissar, Mahendragarh, Panipat, Sirsa and Sonipat there were localized patches of Uranium concentration.

Latest official statistics on water availability in rural areas indicate that as reported by States and Union Territories 81.20% rural habitations having 76.54% population are fully covered with provision of 40 litre or more per capita per day (lpcd) and 15.55% rural habitations having 19.69% population are partially covered (with provision of less than 40 lpcd). 3.24% rural habitations having 3.77% population have water sources with quality issues.

Well, India’s 1.3 billion people consume one fourth of the total ground water extracted globally – more than that of China and USA combined. The cause for concern if reports are to be believed is that a total of 163 million people in the country have no access to clean water close to their homes or 15% of all rural residents and 7% of all urban residents. With agricultural activities consuming 80% of our total water consumption, as many studies have cautioned, proper management of water is quite important.

Looking beyond petty politics, it is necessary to appreciate that not everyone can install water purifiers at home or buy packaged water to avoid water-borne infections and diseases. Since there have been some complaints of unsafe packaged water or fake brands finding its way to the markets, official government agencies cannot escape their responsibilities but are duty bound to supply clean drinking water to the public at large. They need to be reminded that time and again the Judiciary across state as well as the Apex Court in various judgments has held that the right of access to clean drinking water is a fundamental right and State is bound to supply potable water to the citizens.

(Published on 25th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 48)