Bills on water draw flak

Kathmandu, October 7 :

Despite protests and pressure from water activists, the government is going to pass controversial bills on drinking water in the House of the Representatives without public discussions.

The bills — Water Utility Tariff Commission Bill 2063 (WUTCB) and the Water Utility Management Board Bill (WUMBB) 2063 — were tabled by Minister for Physical Planning and Works Gopal Man Shrestha on September 28. The House has been adjourned till October 11. It will follow the process of passing it in several days.

The bills, in general, will open doors to privatisation of drinking water distribution mechanism and, according to the activists working to make them poor-friendly, will cause tariff hike and make it inaccessible to poor communities living in the capital Valley.

These bills are being passed as per the demands of the donors of Melamchi Water Projects, who have demanded privatisation of the water distribution before carrying out the $500 million project.

“It will be unfortunate if the bills are passed without amendments,” said Prakash Amatya, the executive director of NGO Forum of Urban Water and Sanitation.

Amatya added that the bills were not enacted even during the king’s direct rule though bureaucrats had tried time and again to privatise the most essential need of the people. “But it is going to be passed this time. May be this is the drawback of any government which lacks opposition,” Amatya added.

According to the activists, subsidy should be given to the poor community in water supply connection fees and in the tariff and representation of the poor community should be make compulsory in water supply management board.

“If the system must be handled by the private sector, the ordinance should mention that priority should be given to the Nepalis and it could be run jointly too,” states a memorandum handed over by the forum to the ministry long time ago. Chairman of the Nepal Water for Health (NEWAH), Umesh Pandey, said that the government has deliberately tried to pass the bills when all the people were in a festive mood, overlooking the attempts of the water activists to have them discussed among the stakeholders and policy-making bodies. “For over a year, we have been crying that the bills have problems and need to be discussed thoroughly before tabling, but minister of this ‘democratic’ government tabled them when all were busy celebrating Dashain,” he said.

He reminded that only one among the 12 lawmakers from the Kathmandu Valley appeared in an interaction held in June 7 in the capital, and even those who came, representing Bajhang, Arghakhachi and Ramechhap districts tried to deviate the issue, saying that there are more critical water-related problems in their constituencies.

“This shows the government is not concerned about public voice while making policies,” he said.