Get used to thirst!
Posted on August 7th, 2015

Editorial By The Nation

The move to privatize water on a large scale didn’t begin yesterday.  The first noises were made around 25 years ago, when the International Irrigation Management Institute (IIMI) set up its headquarters in Pelawatte, Colombo.

Back then too the talk was about the efficient use of water. It was a design that was promoted by those who wanted to see rice being replaced by so-called ‘High Value Crops’.  It was an attempted strike not only on rice but on a nation’s cultural preferences.  It was about enforced dependency.  It was of course couched in the language of democracy: ‘user control’!  That’s the tried and tested method of securing control of resources: get the commons into the market and let the market forces sort things out.  In the end the wealthy get it all.

With respect to irrigation management what was commonly held and later acquired by the state in an absolute perversion done in the name of ‘socialism’ , was sought to be ‘handed back to users’.  The collective ways by this time had been subverted.  Societies weren’t flat.  There were and are big users and small.  There was and is a political economy of agriculture.

IMMI morphed quickly into International Water Resource Management.  That’s when that institute began investigating the possibility of controlling ground water resources.  Through markets of course.

Successive governments or rather key ministers in them were persuaded by interested parties to get the laws right to facilitate all this.  It came in waves.  Some highs followed by long periods when there was hardly a ripple.  Rauff Hakeem, the subject minister, recently submitted a cabinet paper seeking the establishment of a River Valleys Management Authority. This was in March 2015.  It was rejected by Cabinet.

The Opposition has brought it up, rather late in the day,  in the context of the upcoming election.  That’s politics.  The question is, is the idea dead?  Worryingly, this is an issue that keeps cropping up.  As mentioned, the ‘setting’ was designed in the late eighties and early nineties.  The ‘rationale’ was produced by ‘contracted research’.  ‘The Science’ if necessary can be cited as and when necessary.  An attempt was made in 2000 and 2001 but public protest buried that effort. This is why the public should not wait but keep abreast of these developments.

The rationale is all sweet, as always.  There’s pollution, the Minister says.  The users don’t know the true value of water (he does?), he says.  Agrochemical use is not properly regulated and quantity assessment is flawed, are other claims.    Shoved in the middle of it is this thing called ‘water tariffs’.

The paper is essentially a re-hashing of the earlier document put together by NGOs with dubious agenda and brainwashed or rather brain-purchased officials.  The details regarding water resources, land under rice cultivation and relevant costs have been scandalously cooked to justify ‘regulation’ in the manner advocated.  In particular the ‘water wastage in agriculture’ is wrung out from a framework of calculation that negates important but unquantifiable benefits to humans, animals, plants and the environment in general.  It is the work of neoliberal economists, clearly, and ones who are addicted to dumping the ‘uncomfortables’ into a dispensible column called externalities”.

The impact will be on the farmer.  The small farmer in particular.  It will result in a new tax regime that will further impoverish the poor and marginalized sections of society.
Interestingly, the paper mentions the fact that the earlier version was filed away due to public protest.  Did the minister assume that the conditions are ‘better’ today in that the public will not protest?  Are the movers and shakers waiting for a ‘pliant public’ to see these ‘reforms’ through?

When they come back with a re-re-hashed version (who knows when?) will the public be ready?  They better be.

3 Responses to “Get used to thirst!”

  1. Charles Says:

    Modernisation is good , but in countries like Sri Lanka it is best to preserve old methods and not deny the benefit of nature to the people, by allowing the private agancies to regularise the use of nature by the people.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    All Essential Services for Life must be State held. The Private Sector has a role to play in feeding/complementing the State sector.

    Points to note :

    * Co-operatives have a great role to play in the rurual economy.

    * A great need is to make the State sector viable.

    The Public must be encouraged to generate ideas through the media. Competitions can be held to generate ideas and prominence and prizes given to University & school children and members of the Public who generate good ideas re the How to Improve the Economy i.e. Goods & Services to the Nation.
    We do not need foreign NGOs so much, do we ? We know our country best.

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    Fran Diaz,

    Again …. We agree!

    All ESSENTIAL SERVICES must REMAIN under the JURISDICTION and CONTROL of the State, and MUST NOT BE PRIVATIZED! That is a matter of survival for the citizens of Sri Lanka.

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