Water besides being a precious commodity is guaranteed by the Constitution of India to ensure a wholesome life as laid down in Article 21 which ensures Right to Life for Indian citizens. In a case that’s subjudice in the Supreme Court, the court has given a notice to the union ministry of health on the quality of water sources in villages. The litigant has asked the court to enforce quality water in sources for drinking water and the argument is that non-safe water is a violation of Right to Life. 

The Supreme Court has ruled, “The Right to Life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes with it, namely, the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and mingling with fellow human beings.

The magnitude and components of this right would depend upon the extent of economic development of the country, but it must, in any view of the matter, include the bare necessities of life and also the right to carry on such functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of human self.”

Back in 2002, the Supreme Court validated the Sardar Sarovar dam project on Narmada in 2000 interpreting the right to life as right to water.

“Water is the basic need for the survival of human beings and is part of the right to life and human right as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India and can be served only by providing source of water where there is none.”

Two years later, in 2004, giving a verdict on a PIL on the fast depletion of groundwater in Delhi, the apex court ruled that groundwater is a social asset. It further said that people have the right to use air, water and earth interpreting the Article 21vii. It even observed that in groundwater use, domestic and irrigation needs must be prioritised.

In Mumbai in July 2010, a Right to Information plea went on to reveal there were about one lakh points of water leakages, and about 19,000 connections unauthorised. In all, there were 3,44,253 authorised water connections in the city. Of the 3,400 million litres water the BMC supplied per day, 20 per cent water goes down the drain due to leakages and theft.

RTI activist Milind Mulay’s queries revealed there were 97,747 leakages and 18,944 unauthorised water connections across the city. To make things worse, RTI activist Aziz Amreliwala’s query revealed that despite having launched a drive to install digital water meters across the city for equitable distribution and conservation of water, many of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) own offices, including the headquarters, are yet to install even the conventional analog meters.

Incidentally, in the case of an unmetered connection, the exact quantity of water consumption cannot be calculated and bills are charged on average usage, which only encourages the incidence of water theft throughout the city.

It was also revealed that while the hydraulic department advocates use of alternative water sources — including drawing water from bore wells, tube wells and rain water harvesting — to reduce dependence on drinking water supply, not a single ward office had taken any such initiative.

There, undoubtedly, is a sinister nexus between slum-dwellers, the water mafia, politicians and bureaucrats. That apart, when asked, civic officials across the nation insist that action against illegal connections is being taken routinely. Water is pilfered from many points and sold at a high rate in slums across the nation who land up paying 30 times more than BMC?charges.

Political representatives and their henchmen run virtual water mafias in slums and sell water connections in connivance with the civic authorities and the police despite right to water being an extension of right to life.

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