In the 1970s and 80s, bottled drinking water in India was unheard of. Now, everyone in the country, it seems, is drinking water from plastic bottles. At least that is how it seems at first glance. Bottled water, controlled by the likes of Nestle, Pepsi and Coca Cola, is mostly out of reach for most Indians, given its prohibitive prices. Most Indians carrying a plastic water bottle are reusing the empty, non-recyclable plastic for carrying tap water rather than consuming bottled water on a regular basis.

The corporate control of water and water distribution in India is increasing. As globalization opens opportunities for private players, investing in water, or and manipulating the scarcity of water, makes increasingly good business sense for corporations.

Indeed, water utility companies like Vivendi and Suez of France have entered the Indian market and are beginning to run water distribution systems. Such systems would provide water to those who can afford the market prices, and those that cannot are out of luck. Clearly, there will be more losers in a country like India than those who stand to gain from such a system.

But it also begs a larger question- who has the right to own water and profit from it anyway? Its not as if these corporations invented water. And while only 4% or so of all the water worldwide is freshwater and fit for drinking, water is part of the global commons, like air; the rights to water should extend to all human beings. The privatization of water for profit will deny a majority of the people in the world a basic right that should be guaranteed.

And to add to the irony of it all, industrial pollution in India is one of the main reasons why so much of our water is not fit to drink. As more and more transnational corporations invest in India, their plants pollute our water systems, increasing the demand for different sources of clean water. As local sources of water become fouled, demand increases for water corporations to sell a product that was once free. Complicit in all this is the World Bank, which promotes these water polluting industries in India in the first place, and then also finances water cleaning projects (that don't work) in the same areas!

Privatization of water is wrong and will not work. The Water Section of the Issue Library looks at the politics of water in India and globally. Water, which has been identified by corporations as the last frontier, clearly needs to be more on the agenda of Indian social movements. So we plan to bring insightful, cutting edge stories on water in order to highlight the problems with the corporate control over water.

Handwash or Eyewash?

Private Water, Public Misery

Water Profiteers

Trashing Water is Good Business For Water Companies

>>  More Stories

Updated: 11/28/2003

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Hindustan Lever Enters Water Business

Can Privatisation Plug India's Leaking Bucket?

Water: A Life and Death Commodity

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