In the post liberalisation era, ‘privatisation’ was presented as the panacea of all problems, including water supply. In this context the MCGM, a pioneer in Asia in water supply, initiated a study in Mumbai’s K(East) ward with the support of Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF), a subsidiary of the World Bank. Our journey began with the engagement of citizens to study this process in 2006. We emerged as a citizen’s campaign seeking the universal right to water.
The fight for water as a universal right In Mumbai also had its roots a discriminatory policy that was initiated in 1996. The right to water in slums (hereafter referred to as people’s settlements) was completely negated by a March 1996 circular. The circular issued by the Maharashtra Urban Development Department (UDD) to all Municipal Corporations in the State prevented slums that have developed after the government cut-off date (01.01.1995) i.e. ‘unauthorized slums’ from accessing municipal water supply. The circular specifically states that “water supply to any illegal constructions shall not be approved”. In keeping with this circular, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) prohibited regularised water connections to people living in ‘unauthorized slums’.
2006 – 2010
Pani Haq Samiti (PHS) was first constituted as a movement (Mumbai Pani and Pani Haq Abhiyan) against the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai’s (MCGM) plan to privatise water distribution in Mumbai’s K -East ward on a pilot basis Mumbai city in 2006. Its members included social activists, public intellectuals and those who stood to be affected. As the mobilisation advanced, more people demanded greater transparency which coalesced into a bigger movement, the Pani Haq Abhiyaan to create widespread awareness on the issue of water privatisation and raise it with different political parties through awareness generation among the local elected officials, members of the Legislative Assembly and Parliament. Eventually, widespread agitation and fierce campaigning across the city resulted in stalling the proposal for privatisation.
Against this background, in 2010, Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action initiated a city-level Pani Parishad (Conference on water) was organised where residents termed as “illegal inhabitants of the city” shared their experiences of accessing water. Following this conference, “Pani Haq Samiti” was established with members from people’s settlements, independent activists, academicians and various non-governmental organisations. Since its formation, PHS has been in the forefront of the movement to secure universal access to water in Mumbai city.
2011 – 2014
Challenging the Maharashtra UDD circular a Public Interest Litigation was filed by Pani Haq Samiti in October 2011. The final judgment made in December 2014 was a historic one. The bench presided by Justice Abhay Oak and Justice A S Gadkari stated that whether homes are deemed ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’ – in upholding Article 21 of the Indian Constitution – it is the responsibility of the government to provide water to all. Re enforcing the intrinsic relationship between water and life, the judgment established that the right to water is as fundamental as the right to life. It is the first time that it has been stated that in order to realise Article 21, access to water is essential. Till date there has been no law in urban India that mandates water to all. As interim relief the court ordered that the Bombay Municipal Corporation formulates a policy for providing water supply to all citizens.
2015 – 2018
While the MCGM made constant delays with regard to developing the policy, in its 28 November 2016 policy it has stated that water will be available to all. Once again though this comes with riders such as water will not be provided to the homeless and No Objection Certificates would be required from land owners. On 9 January 2017 a circular was issued to all MCGM officials to implement the policy. PHS has been actively engaged in ensuring sanctioning and implementation of this policy with the administration, simultaneously capacitating communities to follow necessary procedures to access water in their settlements.