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Protests Against Water Privatisation in Khandwa Gathers Steam

Water privitization protest. c/o AP

Water privitization protest. c/o AP

New Delhi: Khandwa, located in Western Madhya Pradesh, Central India, has been witness to many big rallies, demonstrations and protests by Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) for more than a decade now against the construction of big dams like Maheshwar, Indira Sagar, Narmada Sagar, Mann and ors on the Narmada river. However, in past few months another movement against water privatisation is taking shape in Khandwa. India’s first such project ‘Khandwa Water Supply Augmentation Project’ has been awarded to Vishwa Infrastructure and Services Private Ltd., a Hyderabad based company under Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns (UIDSSMT) on PPP basis for water supply augmentation to the town for 25 years under the concession.

The project has been under execution since October 2009. The private concessionaire would supply water to the town @ Rs 11.95 per KL. The raw water for this would be pumped from a reservoir 51 Kms away from the town. The project’s construction phase is expected to complete by September 2012, delayed by almost 1 year. The project has been show cased in various circles including at the Planning Commission level as being a successful model of executing PPPs in water sector and will pave the way for such projects in other cities.

The construction has been going on since 2009 but now only the details and conditionalities of the projects have started coming out. Since then in last six months local Bar Association, Pensioner’s Association, Traders Associations, Media groups, Citizen Forums, Political Representatives, local organisations and other community groups have started coming together and discussing the issues. Narmada Jal Vitran Sangharsh Samiti (Narmada Water Distribution Struggle Committee) has been formed which is strongly campaigning against the project and the severe impacts it would have on the lives of the local residents. As reported by the Times of India on April 18th Residents of Khandwa apart from holding protests and demonstrations are also holding an opinion poll against the project. Devendra Singh Yadav of Narmada Jal Vitran Sangharsh Samiti, carrying out the survey says, “We will complete the referendum in a month and hand it over to the chief minister and the Supreme Court to let them know people’s opinion.”

They have been regularly petitioning the local municipal corporation officials and the state government agencies for clarifications on various issues related to the project like privatisation, no investment by the private company, private ownership of new water supply system, neglecting existing water sources, mortgaging water rights of the people for 25 years, raising of water tariffs, non-use of local water resources like handpumps, dug-wells, etc. Apart from this the group has also petitioned the government agencies and the municipal corporation to cancel the project and the municipal corporation to take the responsibility of water supply in its own hands.

Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, which has been studying the project since last 3-4 years has brought out startling conditionalities based on which the Khandwa Municipal Corporation (KMC) signed the concession agreement with Vishwa Utilities Pvt. Ltd. The studies Manthan has done in this regard has been public domain for quite sometime and are available on its website. These studies provide the details about the water supply issues in the town as well as what is wrong with the PPP contract and has aided the struggle against the privatisation.

It remains to be seen how the resistance against the water privatisation will pan out since this will be a test case for future projects in other cities. There is active opposition to water privatisation in Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi and other cities of the country. PPP has been termed as the loot of natural resources and only benefits the private corporations on the public money, like in this case 80% of the project cot will be borne by Centre, 10% by State government and it is the rest 10% for which the agreement between the KMC and Vishwa has been signed by which Vishwa will corner all the profit and establish its monopoly over the distribution and make public taps a history in Khandwa.