Story Publication logo October 16, 2009

Water Barons


Media file: water.jpg

In September 2007, the government of Maharashtra, India, invited bids from private companies for the...


Sonali Kudva, Pulitzer Student Fellow

When I undertook this project on water issues, I had in my mind a term that I thought I had come up with. That term was "Water Barons." I was wrong. I hadn't coined it. It had existed before. It was a term that I heard when I spoke with Datta Desai from the organization, Bharatiya Gyana Vigyana Sanstha.

The term "Water Barons" to me implied a form of feudalism that gave control of a precious natural resource to a select few. As Datta Desai spoke on the issue and began explaining further, I realized the woeful lack of my knowledge on these things. For to begin with, "Water Barons" would not just control the water, they would control industry that grows around the water in that area. Fishing rights, tourism rights, agriculture; all of this would be affected in some form by this feudal system.

Bharatiya Gyana Vigyana Sanstha, as Desai explains has been involved with a number of social problems in Maharashtra. He goes on to express doubt over the government's inability to continue with the construction on the Nira-Deoghar project citing a lack of funds, and maintains that his organization is one that opposes privatization on an ideological basis.

I began to understand why there was so much protest over the concept of privatization in the case of the Nira Deoghar project as Desai expounded on his views. His view on the political situation in the areas affected and subsequently the ramifications of the power struggles in the area were illuminating.

In a sense Datta Desai made some very valid points. The public sector and the budget allocated to such projects was probably due for an overhaul. It was entirely possible that such a move would solve quite a few problems.

It had not struck me that the management of the Nira-Deoghar could be turned over to the farmers themselves, until Desai mentioned that. Could this be feasible? He seemed to think so. I was not and still am not sure on this. For one thing, most people standing to benefit from this are farmers, who have enough on their plate without adding the maintenance of a major water project to their responsibilities. And for another, this is not their area of expertise. And for another, wouldn't this too be a kind of privatization of sorts?

I came away from this chat with Desai a little perturbed by all of what I heard. I agreed with him that there had to be politics involved. I also agreed that privatization was not the only solution here and I even agreed with him on the reworking of budgetary allocations. However, I still wasn't so convinced that privatization was the bad thing that all of those that I spoke to made it out to be.

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