Privatisation of water is taking root in India, often aided by political and bureaucratic corruption. Alongside, resistance to this is also building up.
THE Sheonath River Project is turning out to be Chhattisgarh's worst inheritance from undivided Madhya Pradesh. The project, India's first river privatisation experiment, was handed over to Radius Water Limited (RWL) by the Madhya Pradesh government, pleading a lack of sufficient funds.
The Rs.9-crore project was formalised on October 5, 1998, between Madhya Pradesh Audyogik Kendra Vikas Nigam (MPAKVN) and RWL on a build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) basis for the construction of a barrage on the Sheonath to supply up to 30 million litres of water per day (MLD) to the Borai Industrial Growth Centre in Durg district. The barrage construction was completed in two years and operations began in January 2001.
"We got to know about the privatisation of the river only when RWL began harassing villagers near the river and held self-laudatory press conferences in Delhi," says Lalit Surjan, Editor of Deshbandhu, a local newspaper. "We then began an investigation and were shocked by the findings."
The agreement, which was inherited by the Chhattisgarh State Industrial Corporation (CSIDC) when the State was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, categorically gave RWL exclusive access to a 23.6-kilometre stretch of the river for a period of 22 years (including two years for project construction). RWL secured monopoly rights over the supply of water to all sectors and phases of the Borai Industrial Centre, and the CSIDC was obliged to provide all land for the project free of cost. The CSIDC was expected to purchase water from RWL and sell it to the industrial units in Borai.
The contract states: "It is clearly understood by both parties that the Project Company has nothing to do with the actual users of the water, i.e. various Industries/Units/Companies ... ."