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Workshop on Right to Water and Sanitation in association with University of Antwerp, Belgium, 24-26.08.2016


Expert Consultation on Water and Sanitation Rights for Urban poor in Delhi


The consultation was attended by representatives of NGOs like CURE and Action India amongst others, students and faculty members from NLU, Delhi and the University of Antwerp. A representative from UNICEF was also present. The programme began with a welcome address by Professor Ranbir Singh, the Vice Chancellor of NLUD. This was followed by renewing the partnership between the University of Antwerp and NLUD by signing of an MOU.


The first session was chaired by Dr. Anup Surendranath. The session began with the presentation of the concept of localising human rights by Professor Koen De Feyter, Chair of International Law at University of Antwerp. He explained how the concept starts with a hypothesis on the effectiveness of human rights and that what people perceive as rights and violations is more important than how the law looks from the top-down. After an outline of the Steps involved from when human rights claims emerge to the receiving of the law by its “users”, the floor was open for questions and discussions. The broad questions and issues for consideration were: the relevance of the concept in situations where the sovereignty of the state is challenged, situations where the human rights language could be counter-productive and other challenges that advocates of human rights face.


Session 2 was chaired by Dr. Aparna Chandra. In this session, Dr. Maheshwar Singh presented the study on the right to water and sanitation for the urban poor in Delhi with a caveat that the study is still ongoing and what is being presented are the mid-research results for inputs of the experts present. He gave a brief description of the results of the study in the background of the contents of right to water and sanitation under General Comment 15 of the UN Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural rights. The contents of the right of water on Availability, Accessibility, Affordability, Quality and Acceptability were discussed in the three slums (Rangpur Pahadi, Begumpur in Malaviya Nagar and Bhanwar Singh Camo) and one resettlement colony (SavdaGhevra) in Delhi. This was followed by a Qn A session in which issues like the relevance of caste and gender while discussing accessibility came up majorly. The depth of the study prompted the discussion towards more nuanced issues like Sale of illegally obtained water and the tanker mafia, quality of water, black economy in the slum “market”, shrinking spaces in metros for the ever increasing population, effectiveness of Women’s collectives, failure of urban institutions and the multiplicity of institutions-DJB, DUSIB, MCD etc, and the need for 24*7 water supply. 


Session 3 was chaired by Dr. Mrinal Satish. In this session, Noemi Desguin, a researcher with the University of Antwerp linked the issue of land and tenure security to the right to water and sanitation, highlighting the indivisibility of fundamental rights. She discussed specially the case of Rangpur Pahadi, a slum built on unauthorised forest land and Savda Ghevra, a resettlement colony on the outskirts of Delhi and how the insecurity of tenure affects the accessibility of the fundamental rights of citizens. The also focussed on the higher burden placed on marginalised communities due to the illegality of their residence in case of Rangpur Pahadi and improper planning in case of Savda Ghevra. The role of land owning agencies in supply of basic amenities was also noted. Noemi suggested that in order to resolve the crisis, the government should look at a model that recognises occupancy rights instead of formally recognising property, as in the case of the Patta Act in Madhya Pradesh where after 10 years of occupancy, the slum dwellers get the leasehold.


The final session, organised for feedback and discussion brought to light the merits and demerits of the use of Human Rights language by the NGOs in India. While it can be used as a tool for empowerment, the legal structure in India, due to the FCRA Act, 2010, restricts the use of the human rights language for NGOs. The human rights language still finds other avenues in the form of the Constitution which remains a dependable document.