Access to water : Rights, obligations and the Bangalore situation

Abstract: The city of Bangalore in southern India is undergoing rapid urbanisation and administrative transition. Its growth puts pressure on the available water sources – being mainly the disputed inter-State River Cauvery and the hard-rock aquifers – with ensuing problems of access. These aspects affect how rights to and over water are fulfilled and perceived. Competition for drinking water is intensifying worldwide and over a billion people are estimated to lack safe access to it. Urbanisation and other demographic trends, along with globalisation and climate change, are adding to the changing patterns of water scarcity. The role of rights in attaining and improving access to water is undoubtedly great and often referred to in the general water management debate. The notion is analysed here as having three interlinked dimensions: the right to water as a human right; water in terms of property rights; and water rights. Law treats these rights, and thereby water, differently. For instance, groundwater has traditionally been thought of as invisible and unpredictable. Partly for this reason, it is still left largely unregulated in many parts of the world. In India, according to the proverb, ‘the landlord is a water lord’. This has effects on the claim for water as a human right. The dissertation shows that we cannot talk in terms of water and rights until we are aware of how complex rights apply simultaneously, and how they correspond to obligations.