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A People’s Movement for Equitable Distribution of Water

Over the years, PHS has evolved into a people’s movement that has created widespread awareness on privatisation of water supply and raised it with concerned authorities.

Pani Haq Samiti, a collective of people’s movements, civil society organisations and individuals has been fighting for universal access to water in Mumbai for over three decades now. Their fight has its roots in a discriminatory circular cutting off water supply to areas and structures that were built before 1 January 1995. This circular was issued in 1996 by the Maharashtra Urban Development Department, forcing a population nearly 2 million on the brink of a water and sanitation corporation. Residents had no option but to buy expensive, low-quality water from private providers. This denial of a basic amenity like adequate and quality water supply is not just a violation of fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, but also a violation section 5 of the Maharashtra Slum Act, 1971. In response to this denial of people’s right to water, a collective of residents, activists, academics, and NGOs came together to form the Pani Haq Samiti (PHS).

Over the years, with support from other organisations on advocacy and legal strategies, technical expertise and research,  PHS has evolved into a people’s movement that has created widespread awareness on privatisation of water supply and raised it with political parties, elected officials, MLAs and the Parliament and the judiciary.

Their continued efforts over the years have led to the reinstatement of people’s right to water. In a historic judgement in December 2014, the Mumbai High Court established that the right to water is as fundamental as the right to life under the constitution. Till date there has been no law in urban India that mandates water to all. As interim relief, the court ordered that the Bombay Municipal Corporation formulates a policy for providing water supply to all citizens.

On 9 January 2017, a circular was issued to all municipal officials to implement such a policy. The judgment and subsequent policy change have been the campaign’s biggest achievement till date. Today their efforts to ensure water for all continue. Volunteers part of PHS go from one settlement to another to spread awareness, help community members file online applications for water connections across settlements in Mumbai. Their goal is not just to take this fight for access to water across Mumbai, but even to districts where Mumbai get its water from.

Video by Zulekha Sayyed

Article by Grace Jolliffe

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