Draft law limits right to natural water
The cabinet on Monday approved the draft of the Bangladesh Water Bill 2012 making room for commercialisation of water and limiting one’s right to the natural resource for household or agricultural uses.
Once the bill is enacted into a law, people will have ‘limited right’ to use of water from natural water bodies or wetland for irrigation or household purposes although the national water policy has been declared water essential ‘for human survival and socio-economic development of the country’.
The proposed law allows the government and private agencies or local government bodies to fix charges for supply of water for both household and agricultural uses, a move rights activists are opposing.
The draft prepared in line with the National Water Policy of 1999 proposes higher water tariff for commercial and industrial uses and comparatively lower tariff for basic use of water.
The water resources ministry placed the draft at the weekly meeting of the cabinet with the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, in the chair.
‘The draft stipulates maximum five-year imprisonment and a fine of Tk 50 lakh in case of violation of the water law,’ cabinet secretary Mohammad Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters after the cabinet meeting.
He said that the law was drafted in keeping with the national water policy and it was first placed in the cabinet in August 2011.
The cabinet secretary said the enactment was aimed at establishing ownership of water and ensuring its proper distribution and also protecting rivers and water bodies from encroachment and pollution.
The water tariff must be fixed in consistency with the need and ability of the suppliers and the users. The rate shall be comparatively less for the poor and the backward section of people, the draft says.
According to the policy, the government may confer water rights on private and community bodies to provide secure, defensible and enforceable ownership rights to ground water and surface water for attracting private investment.
The policy which was framed during Sheikh Hasina’s previous tenure declares water as essential for human survival and socio-economic development of the country.
One of the objectives of the enactment is to accelerate the development of sustainable public and private water delivery systems with appropriate legal and financial measures and incentives, in
cluding delineation of water rights and water pricing.
The draft proposes formation of a national water resources council to be led by the water resources minister.
The government, as per the law, can set up a tribunal to deal with water-related cases. The draft suggests basin-wise river management for maintaining navigability of the major rivers.
The total ownership of water and water resources shall remain vested in the state, according to the draft.
Rights activists are protesting against the scope for commercialisation of water in the draft water
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association chief executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan, presenting a keynote on the draft in the city, said recently that making people’s participation compulsory while determining the right to water and considering industrial and commercial institutions as consumers instead of users was necessary for the coordinated management and development of water resources.
The draft underlined use of rainwater for household use in cities and also for irrigation.