ACCESS TO WATER: A HUMAN RIGHT VIEW

Introduction

Water is considered as one of the essential means of human livelihood and as a matter of natural resource, everybody is entitled to have access to safe drinking water. Everyone is directly dependent on water for fulfilling daily needs, personal hygiene, and sanitization. Access to safe drinking water is a human right as declared by the UN and no one can be deprived of water. The government of India is taking various measures to promote the agenda of the right to safe drinking water which ultimately is an essential step for improving the living standards of people. Despite many policies made there is still an unequal distribution of water among the lower section of society. Worldwide it’s said that 89% of the people have access to water for drinking but the UNDP report states that one out of six people does not have access to safe drinking water[1]. In Africa, the major cause of poor health is the lack of safe drinking water.

What Is a Human Right?

Human rights are the universal rights and birthrights of every human being. These rights are granted to every human being just because they are born as a human. It is a basic right of each person and no one can be deprived of the same. Many countries or even states often assign each other the work to ensure that every individual enjoys their human rights. “In this new century, water, its sanitation, and its equitable distribution pose great social challenges for our world. We need to safeguard the global supply of healthy water and to ensure that everyone has access to it.” — UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, 2001.

Is Water Considered a Human Right?

International human rights law protects the human right to water. In conventions like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights 1966 water is not separately mentioned as a human right however, later it was implied as a human right under the right to life and right to an adequate standard of living. Further, in the year 2002, the United Nations officially declared and adopted water as a human right. In the General Comment 15, of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights it was stated that water is a human right and it entitles everyone to safe, sufficient, acceptable, and accessible affordability of water for personal and domestic use. This obligates the countries endorsing the said convention to provide safe and fair access to water among their citizens whether it’s rich or poor.

Constitutional View on Access to Water

In the case of Delhi Water Supply & Sewage Disposal Undertaking vs. State of Haryana & Ors.[2]Justice Venugopal referring to some American judgments stated that access to safe drinking water is the foremost duty of the state and no reason can excuse the same whether its governments order or privatization of water. Under Article 262[3] of the Constitution of India, the use of water for domestic use is set as a priority and no reason can excuse the water right. Further, in the case of Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh[4], the Supreme Court of India recognized the right to shelter as a Fundamental Right under Article 21[5] of the Constitution of India. The right to life and personal liberty includes the right to proper shelter, hygiene, and sanitization for the growth of the mental and physical well-being of a human being. In the absence of proper shelter and accommodation, the growth and performance of fundamental duty are not possible. Therefore, it’s the responsibility of the state to promote a welfare state and provide its citizens with proper accommodation for healthy living.

National Water Policy

The national water policy was established in the year 2012 to create a framework to fulfill a plan of action for equal access to water. It comes under the ministry of water resources and governs the development and planning of water resources. National water policy has been updated three times starting from 1987 then 2002 and 2012 respectively. The salient features of NWP also include proving safe access to water and limiting the regulation of groundwater. The principle of social justice in proving equal access to water shall prevail with an integrated perspective of the management of water. Moreover, equality in the distribution of water shall also be kept in mind so that no one is left behind.

Conclusion

Water forms the basic unit of human life and everyone is entitled to have equal access to water. The policymakers should pay more emphasis on the distribution of water as water is a human right of every human being and no one should be deprived of the same. The main problem of the water supply comes from forest dwellers and slum areas where people are unable to access water even for domestic use and most of the issues are often overlooked because the chain of supply is not adequate and consistent in providing the resources. Making policies and plans are not sufficient, the government should pay more emphasis on the implementation of laws only then the objective of equal access to water can be attained. It is the foremost duty of the government to ensure that people enjoy their basic human right to water. The government is obliged on three levels firstly, the government should ensure that the rights of every individual are respected and nothing should act as a barrier in implementing these rights. The second obligation of the government is to protect human rights and must ensure that there is no third-party interference. Moreover, for safe drinking water government should also include the formation of legislation that focuses on limiting industries from polluting water. The last and most important aspect of government obligation is to fulfill the human right of every individual and may establish water treatment plants or establish wells in villages where the access to water is low and unsafe for domestic use.

Author(s) Name: Pratima Pal (Amity University, Lucknow)

References:

[1] ‘Global Wash Fast Facts: Access to Clean Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene’ (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 December 2021) <https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/global/wash_statistics.html#:~:text=An%20estimated%202.2%20billion%20people,access%20to%20basic%20handwashing%20facilities> accessed 18 February 2022

[2] Delhi Water Supply & Sewage Disposal Undertaking v State of Haryana & Ors. AIR 1996, SCC 572

[3] Constitution of India, 1950, art. 262

[4]Chameli Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1966, SCC 549

[5]Constitution of India, 1950, art. 21