The Right to Water
The air, land, sea and water, we have been taught, are part and parcel of the common heritage of mankind. But the Water Resources Act and regulations, which are scheduled to be debated in parliament as an adjournment motion today, threatens to take away that right to water from all Sri Lankans and vest them with the state. Already urban Sri Lankans have lost the right to water and are mere pawns in the hands of the panjandrums of the Water Resources Board. Now, if this new legislation goes through, it appears that rural Sri Lankans who had right of access to flowing rivers, natural lakes and reservoirs built by their ancestors and even wells in their gardens will be denied those rights that generations from time immemorial had enjoyed.
The Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Management, Mr. Sarath Amunugama has been quick to deny water pricing under the proposed act but yesterday we publishd an article by Mr. Hemantha Withanage, Executive Diector of the Environmental Foundation Ltd., where specific provisions that call for permission of the proposed National Water Resources Authority for use of water are cited. Under the proposed legislation, water users will need to obtain Water Entitlement from the proposed National Water Resources Authority. Even though the proposed law says that small users will be exempted from the requirement to hold Water Entitlement, it also states: 'Local government will be encouraged to register small wells and apply guidelines on well density in ground water mangaement areas.'
Mr. Withanage says that this implies that the public will have to register small wells and according to regulations and schedules published, the registration for a small well could well be Rs. 500. There are many other pernicious developments that could result, says this environmental scientist.
The question that is being raised by many MPs, including those in government ranks is: Why is this bill being moved in so great hurry? We presume that despite Mr. Amunugama's experience as a provincial administrator he is not the author of this bill. Most probably it is a leftover of the past administration.Why legislation which would have attracted immense volleys of brickbats was not moved at the tail-end of a government, can be understood.
This is the work of the modern-day gnomes of high finance the IMF, World Bank, ADB and their handmaidens such as the international agricultural research and water management institutes. One obsession of these institutions is water management and Third World countries have no other option but to give in to the demands of these whiz kids who think they know what's best for us. However much political parties, when in Oppostion, may threaten to undo all this kind of 'neo-colonialism', when in power they purr like kittens in the hands of these institutions. Readers will recall the late Mr. C. V Gooneratne thundering about water meters being introduced to the Dehiwela-Mt. Lavinia Municipality and how he vowed to physically throw out the water meters that were being installed during the UNP regime. Despite all his good intentions and commitment Mr. Gooneratne could do nothing when the sadistic bureaucracy of the Water Resources Board levied bills as high as Rs. 25,000 on house holds where leaking water pipes could not have been detected.
It will be the same vicious bureaucracy that will be unleashed on people in the provinces if the proposed legislation goes through.
It is indeed strange that a government that does not care about the horrendous groundwater pollution going on in the Western Province where every ten perches of land has a cess-pit due to lack of a drainage system, should be concerned about such intense water management in the provinces. It is bewildering to realise that the governments, deaf and blind to the thick black diesel smoke that is choking Colombo and other urban centres because of the import of unlimited number of used vehicles, should act with such alacrity on provincial water management. But suddenly the government is concerned about paddy farmers wasting water to fill up their paddy fields as they had always done.
Is this a move to wean away the paddy cultivator from his ancestral fields? Distinct moves have been observed in recent times to discourage paddy cultivation and encourage cash crops. In this age when they speak of food security and rice being considered a strategic materiel as the Japanese have always done shouldn't we follow suit? We will be told that in this Age of Globalisation and Regionalism we can always get the required rice at a much cheaper price from India. What if the Indian crop fails? The reply may be: No cause for alarm because in a few years India will be dependent on Genetically Manufactured rice which will be provided by the western nations! QED.
All this sounds like science fiction. But the Third World is in a Catch 22 situation. Like for example: For the South to catch up with the North there got to be rapid industrialisation. But there can be no rapid industrialisation like the west had if there are rigid pollution controls. Therefore there can be no rapid industrialisation and the South will remain the South and the North, the North.
The Water Resources Act will have many implications, particularly on paddy cultivation. If the government and the bureaucracy and politicians cannot resist the arm twisting of our well-meaning donors it is time that the people rose up and proclaimed their right to the water that falls on their soil.
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