WB writes to Aruna Roy on water project

New Delhi, November 17:

The World Bank (WB) has invited Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy to discuss a controversial Delhi water supply project but she and other activists opposing it want the global body to take part in a public hearing. World Bank country director Michael Carter, in a letter to Roy, said he wanted to clarify what the 24x7 project it proposed to fund was all about. Those opposed to the project say it will lead to higher water tariff, neglect supply to the poor and also pay fat salaries to foreign experts. “I would be more than happy to meet you to clarify what certainly have been misleading press reports about the Bank’s position,” Carter said. Roy, in her reply, cited that the Bank had earlier refused to participate in a public bearing on October 17. “Discussion on the project needs to be taken up amongst Delhi citizens

whereby people themselves can play a more basic role in understanding and choosing policy options,” said Roy.

“After reading the papers accessed by the NGO Parivartan under the Right to Information (RIT) Act, the amount of influence exercised by the Bank in the decision of the Delhi Jal Board has become clear. And I do feel that there are certain issues that need to be independently addressed by the Bank in the public.” The Delhi government has applied for a loan of $150 million from the World Bank to implement the Delhi water supply 24x7 project. If finalised, the project will allow the World Bank to hire multinational agencies to handle the management of water supply in Delhi. Though water would be available throughout the day to the city’s residents, activists fear it would not cater to the poor and carry a high tariff given the fact that foreign consultants would be drawing hefty salaries of about $25,000 per month.

Given the experience of Delhi residents with the privatisation of power distribution, not only social activists but also common people are wary of any further experiments in handing over the management of public utilities to private firms. “We offer them an open challenge to conduct a public debate and convince people about the positive impact of the World Bank loan on this project,” Arvind Kejriwal, president of Parivartan said.