Apropos Himanshu Thakkar’s response to Maharashtra’s water regulation initiative (Mint, 9 May), it is necessary to throw some light on the genesis of the idea, its objectives and strategy to achieve them, in order to dispel the hasty conclusions reached by Thakkar.
The State Water Policy of July 2003 came out with path-breaking ideas on water-use entitlements, water audit and cost-effectiveness of water services. The idea of creating a monitoring authority at arms length from the state government to translate these into reality was conceived and designed by “bureaucrats” and the Planning Commission during their interactions with experts, including those from the World Bank.
In 2005, the state government firmed up the plan while formulating the Water Sector Improvement Project. Thus, it was only the issue of the timeframe, i.e., the establishment of the authority by a certain date, which the World Bank insisted on in the project proposal. To conclude that the very idea of an independent regulator for the water sector was imposed on a reluctant state is a distortion of the truth.
The contention that the authority strengthens the government’s hold and weakens political accountability misses a core issue. The Act empowers the government to translate its holistic water policy into a state water plan by consolidating the disaggregated (basin- and sub-basin-wise) plans. It imposes upon the authority the task of ensuring that the government adheres to and implements the plan. The hold of the executive arm of the government is weakened and it cannot take up projects in a discretionary manner. The government, including the political executive, is now accountable to the authority.
Earlier, there was allocation but no entitlement to water. Deprivation of allocation did not call for any compensation from the state. Deprivation in rural communities would be reduced if the depriver has to pay for his act. The trading mechanism not only recognizes the right to an equitable share for all sections of society, including the weaker sections, but also attaches a value to that right and seeks to enable the poor to encash that value.
Stringing together of words such as “non-transparency”, “non-accountability” and so on cannot substitute for thinking issues through to their logical conclusion. The water does go to the highest valued user, but that user now pays some consideration to the non-user for that use. More importantly, the choice of trade is with the latter.
At a macro level, the multiplier effect of water on industrial productivity leads to cross-subsidization by industry of drinking water, to which the poor are freely entitled. The statement that the Act values the needs of industrial and urban users at the cost of the poor is baseless. Section 11 (i) (iii) of the Act prohibits inter-user category trading of entitlements by restricting transfer of bulk water entitlements to within a category. The task of the authority is to ensure that entitlements of all are properly established, institutional mechanisms are in place to ensure their allocated use, tariffs are settled to reflect utility, and those who violate lawfully established injunctions are penalized. This achieves the goal of equity without sacrificing the goal of water-use efficiency.
The statement that the Act was introduced without wide and informed consultation is incorrect. The Act was formed after two years of consultation with experts, both national and international, all of them outside the government. These included workshops, panel discussions, conferences, field visits and written inputs from expert analysts. The draft statute was then referred to a joint select committee of legislators across parties and subjected to clause-by-clause dissection. The cabinet itself returned the draft at least thrice for reconsideration.
The final formulation is a result of these threadbare discussions and a resolution of contradictory opinions. This is the way prescribed by our democratic process. Secondly, the rules and regulations are still to be framed. The Act provides for access to expertise at all stages and the presumption that the authority would come up with uninformed formulations simply because its membership comprises retired government officers is presumptuous and prejudiced.
On the issue of membership, only two points need to be stressed. Firstly, a regulator is needed to provide quasi-judicial intervention where the conflicting nature of interests requires resolution. Unlike a judge, he has to have a quicker appreciation of the basis and process of decision-making and the constraints in execution. The five subject matter specialists are meant to assist the regulator, which is a statutory authority with the powers of a civil court and, hence, has a built-in top-down element. This is an aspect of judicial independence.
Secondly, the current statute does not restrict membership to government officials. However, at present, all major activity in the country’s water resources sector is primarily in the hands of the government, with no significant privatization. It is inevitable that experience in water conservation and distribution is also most likely to be available with those associated with this function in government. To presume that an official who has retired from government continues to be a “bureaucrat” for life and should, therefore, be kept out of regulatory functions is, to use Thakkar’s language, an atrocious presumption.
In his book, Leadership and the Independent Regulator, Mark A. Jamison of the Public Utilities Centre of Florida University says: “Being a utility regulator has perils because the independence of the regulator necessarily removes power from politicians, operators and others. Furthermore, regulators are sometimes scapegoats for unpopular policies and unavoidably become involved in shaping the policies that they are supposed to implement....The first leadership skill (required by regulators) is the ability to get on the balcony to see what is going on with the operators, politicians, consumers and others. Once this perspective is obtained, then the regulator can engage stakeholders in an adaptive process in which people make necessary changes to traditions and expectations, while hanging on to the things that are truly important. Regulators can do this …… because they involve difficult trade-offs providing certainty and stability when tensions become too high…”
In the water sector today, we need only ask who best can get on to that balcony. At least, until all the rules and regulations are in place and procedures are set, the answer has to be self-evident.
(N.D. Vadnere is a former secretary, irrigation department, government of Maharashtra. Comment at email@example.com)
I refer to your excellent edit, “State of woes”, Mint, 12 July on the root causes of the Naxalite problem. There is no magic solution, but corruption and short-sightedness in the government can only worsen the situation. Desperate people will turn to desperate measures for their day-to-day survival. Even noble intentions, like increasing industrial investment over a period of time, fail because violation of human rights of the poor cannot lead to sustainable development. Rather, it will lead to more seething resentment among the displaced and dispossessed, who give in to the Naxalites because they see their government as having abandoned them.
Human rights are one of the equator principles (a financial industry benchmark for determining, assessing and managing social and environmental risk in project financing) www.equator-principles.com/principles.html
When a state such as Chhattisgarh tries to attract investors by improving its image by demonstration of being tough on terrorism, it resorts to counterproductive means by muzzling the press and incarcerating a respected and beloved human rights advocate such as Binayak Sen. Such efforts will backfire. In fact, repressive acts only strengthen the hand of those who are the true enemies of the state, and hurt the innocent who are trapped between armed insurgents, state-sponsored militia, and the police. Even if only out of economic self-interest, wiser heads should prevail in government.
The entry of Pakistan’s army into the Red Mosque has lamentably resulted in over 80 deaths, including that of the religious leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi.
President Pervez Musharraf’s options were very limited in the circumstances. As the head of the government, he could not let a group of people dictate terms to the country. Having to take controversial decisions, making difficult choices when driven into a corner, is the price of leadership.
Religious leaders need to appreciate the role of the state in governing the country. They should aim to prepare young men for life, by inculcating the right values and principles among them, instead of arming them with machine guns and bombs. Religious leaders would do well to realize that if they are interested in the long-term welfare of thousands of their young followers, they should be preparing them for the future through studies in technology, management and engineering, rather than arming them with guns.
Musharraf will surely create some enemies and opposition due to the military action in the Red Mosque. He will have to be very vigilant about his safety andsecurity.
At this juncture, Pakistan needs understanding and support from its neighbours including India.
It is fortunate that relations between India and Pakistan are thawing and the two countries are in constant dialogue and have liberalized travel rules for their people.
—Rajendra K. Aneja