Pani Haq Samti’s ‘People’s Campaign’ had the dual aim of mobilizing public opinion to oppose the privatisation of water supplies in the Indian state of Maharashtra, and securing the distribution and re-establishment of water as a right.

In Mumbai, the right to water in people’s settlements (known as slums) was revoked in 1996 when the Maharashtra Urban Development Department instructed all municipal corporations to stop water infrastructure being installed in them.

Since then, the right to water and sanitation has been deeply neglected in these communities. An estimated three million people in Mumbai have no access to water and lack of sanitation forces 70% of them to defecate in the open. Those living in people’s settlements buy expensive, low-quality water from private suppliers – a time-consuming activity, especially for women, young girls and children.

Photo credit: Pani Haq Samiti

Against this backdrop, Pani Haq Samiti (PHS, Committee on the Right to Water) came about. Its members included people’s settlement residents, activists, academics and non-governmental organisations. It relied on voluntary donations while other institutions and organisations helped with technical expertise, research support, advocacy strategies, strategy and legal support, all of which helped mobilize people.

As the mobilisation took off, people demanded greater transparency, and this coalesced into the Pani Haq Abhiyaan (Right to Water movement), creating widespread awareness of water privatization by raising it with political parties, elected officials, members of the Legislative Assembly and Parliament.

Eventually, widespread agitation and fierce campaigning across the city resulted in denial of water to people’s settlements being shelved, and two state judges stating that whether homes are deemed ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution – the right to life – intrinsically implies it is the responsibility of the government to provide water to all. On 9 January 2017 a circular was issued to all municipal officials to implement the policy.

The judgment and subsequent policy change have been the campaign’s biggest achievements. People have been the biggest beneficiaries of this as water connections will be available to them, irrespective of the ‘legality’ of the settlement. Moreover, water provided will be through the Municipal Corporation, and not expensive private sources.

Exhibition on Mumbai’s water by Pani Haq Samiti at Marine Drive. Photo credit: Pani Haq Samiti

“The transformation from successfully fighting against privatisation into a broader water rights movement, concerned with the denial of rights to the most vulnerable people and communities is remarkable. The positive court decision to defend water access for all would not come about without strong social mobilisation.”

– Satoko Kishimoto

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