Volume 31 > No 5

Fostering the Realization of the Right to Water: Need to Ensure the Universal Free Provision and to Recognize Water as a Common Heritage

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—Philippe Cullet*

The fundamental right to water has long been formally recognized in India. However, notwithstanding this and numerous governmental interventions over the years, universal provision of water is yet to be achieved. The author traces the divergent trends in the way the realization of the right to water has been conceived over the last few decades. On the one hand, the idea of water as a public trust good has strengthened – on the other hand, however, there is a rising commodification of water in recent water sector reforms. The author challenges this position and analyses the various implications of treating water as an economic good – leading to a stress on affordability at the core of the right. The author argues that the right to water must be viewed through the ‘common heritage of mankind’ lens and operationalized so as to prioritize the needs and interests of rights holders. This stems from the ‘common’ nature of water supply – a resource contingent on global weather conditions and independent from sovereign claims. Further, the author details the higher judiciary’s treatment of the public trust doctrine and examines its shortcomings in ensuring universal access to water. Finally, he concludes that an expanded view of the common heritage of mankind, along with international collaboration on policy frameworks, is essential moving forward.

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