The National Water Resource Policy presented by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has stirred significant concerns among environmentalists, particularly Dr. Ravindra Kariyawasam, the National Coordinator of the Centre for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS). Commercialization of Water:
One of the central issues is the perceived commercialization of water. Critics argue that the policy treats water as a commercial product, raising fears of potential fees for water usage, including in agriculture. The implications of such a commercial approach could restrict free access to water for both human and animal populations.
Management Council and Fees:
The proposal to establish a council for water management has fueled scepticism. Concerns revolve around the council’s authority to impose fees, with apprehensions that these fees might extend to agricultural water usage. This could have significant repercussions for farmers and may increase the overall cost of food production.
Lack of Transparency:
Allegations of the government concealing the policy as a secret initiative underscore a lack of transparency in the policy’s development and implementation. A transparent approach is essential to build public trust and ensure that diverse stakeholders are adequately informed and engaged in the decision-making process.
Potential Tax on Water:
The policy suggests the collection of funds for the maintenance and management of water-related institutions. Critics, including Dr. Kariyawasam, argue that this could amount to a hidden tax on water. Such a tax raises concerns about the equitable access to water, especially in vulnerable communities.
Article 5.5 Concerns:
The emphasis on Article 5.5, recognizing water as a public right but placing all management activities under the policy’s purview, introduces questions about the balance between acknowledging water as a public right and potential restrictions imposed by the policy.
To address these concerns, a multi-faceted approach is necessary. Transparent public consultation should be a priority to gather feedback from stakeholders. The government must clarify its intentions behind the policy, dispelling fears of commercialization and fees. Additionally, conducting a comprehensive environmental impact assessment is crucial to evaluating potential consequences on ecosystems, water quality, and community livelihoods.
Legal safeguards should be integrated into the policy to protect water as a public right and prevent undue commercialization. Furthermore, establishing mechanisms for transparency and accountability in the development and implementation of the policy is essential to building public confidence.
The concerns raised by environmentalists regarding the National Water Resource Policy highlight the importance of balancing water management with environmental sustainability and social equity.