10/30/2012, 00.00
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Environmentalists slam govt for privatising drinking water

by Melani Manel Perera
The authorities deny the claim but plan to tax water for domestic and agricultural use. Water Resources Board says fees will protect water quality. For activists, it is "gross violation of the human rights of the citizens of Sri Lanka."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The Sri Lankan government wants to privatise drinking water, this according to the People's Movement for Right to Water, an environmental group that includes scholars and water management experts.

The authorities have rejected the group's claim but activists point out that the government is planning to amend the 1964 Water Resource Board Act introducing a tax on this 'holy good', which, in their view, would be a "gross violation of human rights of the citizens of Sri Lanka."

"We firmly demand that any regulatory mechanism should be democratically set up," the group said at a press conference at the Library Council Auditorium in Colombo.

Recently, the Water Resources Board (WRB) proposed to impose fees ranging from 7,500 to 15,000 rupees (US$ 50 to 75) to dig traditional or tube wells to obtain water for drinking and agriculture. For the WRB, the measure is necessary to protect the resource.

However, environmentalists believe the measure is the first step towards privatising water management. For them, the proposal is a similar to the Water Resource Management Policy for Commodification and Privatization of Drinking Water, which was approved in March 2000 by the then UNP government (currently main opposition). A draft policy proposal was released on 25 July 2002 but was eventually shelved due to strong public opposition.

The issue goes back to 1995 when the World Bank advised Sri Lanka on how to raise extra revenue.

"One such form was to levy a price for water," said Thilak Kariyawasam, an environmentalist with the Sri Lanka Nature Group.

"They were of the view that if the water distribution were to be privatised, then such an aim could be achieved. [. . .] Based on such haphazard advice our officials started to formulate wrong policies and measures concerning our water resources".

On 28 July 2010, Sri Lanka voted in favour of Resolution 64/292 of the United Nations, which defines the right to water and to health as human rights because they are intrinsic to them.

For this reason, "we firmly believe that imposing taxes on water through the proposed amendments to the Water Resource Board Act of 1964 amounts to a gross violation of the human rights of the citizen of Sri Lanka," said Professor Hemantha Vithanage.

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