New Login   

A Privatizing Experience

By Kshithij Urs and Richard Whittell
Sage, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 169, Rs. 395.00


This book describes the politics of what are popularly called ‘reforms’ in the water sector. It presents a well-articulated critique of the experience of privatizing the provision of water supply in Bangalore, based on the neo-liberal agenda espoused by the World Bank and other international institutions.   The opening chapter of the book presents the dilemmas that emerge from water being basic to human life and the consequences that would flow from its treatment as an economic good bought and sold in the market. The growing scarcity of water has compelled policy-makers and neo-classical economists to emphasize the need to price it correctly to reflect its scarcity value. However, this gives rise to problems of an ethical nature: if water were priced and sold in the market, would it flow through the taps of the poor, who are at present the most deprived and often outside the ambit of the provision of water supply? This is paraphrased as the essential dilemma: ‘can the universal need for water to live and some people’s desire to profit from its sale be reconciled (p. 2)?’ This question, articulated with a tinge of cynicism and apprehension, forms the core of the book. On the one hand, the scarcity of the resource and its inevitability to human life create imperatives for providing it to the poor; on the other hand, the same scarcity makes the resource attractive to private water companies, whose efforts to capitalize on this opportunity take it further away from them.   To provide water as an economic good only to those who can pay leaves out a large proportion of those who cannot. Water needs to be provided as a fundamental right, and not just to those who can afford it, the authors maintain. They make a pertinent point indeed that it is the capacity to pay, rather than the willingness to do so, that policy-makers and the so-called ‘reformers’ need to take cognizance of. There has now emerged what the authors describe as a ‘Global hydra’, as one of the chapters is titled. The authors draw the readers’ attention to the emergence of a global ‘water market’ as a viable business opportunity, characterized by shrinking supplies and growing demand. The empirical evidence with the experience of privatization worldwide has been somewhat disconcerting, however, the authors point out, as evidenced by the wide range of protests that such measures have evoked, as well ...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.