Courts to the rescue of citizens
A Public Interest Litigations (PIL) is the only mechanism that citizens can resort to when government fails to provide basic necessities. Water is a basic need but even today in the capital city of Shillong many residents and women in particular, have to wait in long queues at public water stations in the morning hours. The Greater Shillong Water Supply Scheme (GSWSS) has not delivered even after considerable amount of money has been pumped into the project which started in 1977. In 2006 an Assembly question was raised as to the total amount spent since the inception of the GSWSS up to the time of the question. The answer given was Rs 94.13 crore. Now 15 years later the GSWSS has not made sufficient progress with turbid water being supplied to residents from time to time.
It is intuitive that the Meghalaya High Court should have to direct the State Government to come up with a water policy only now in 2021. In 2019, Meghalaya was touted as the first state to come up with a draft water policy. The Policy has remained a draft till date. The process of putting together a water policy was set in motion in 2013 when the German Foundation, GIZ had offered to undertake a participatory process in putting together the draft policy. The draft policy was readied and submitted to Government of Meghalaya in 2014. Several discussions and workshops with various stakeholders were held around the draft before its finalisation. Unfortunately the draft policy has remained in cold storage. It suddenly surfaced in 2019 but it continues to remain a draft policy and hence not operative. Now with the High Court setting a deadline of March 2, for the Government to come up with the Policy, the draft will hopefully become operational.
Water quality in Meghalaya especially in the coal mining areas is highly suspect. Water quality testing is yet to take off. Reports state that at the time of commissioning water supply schemes the water quality is not tested. As of 2007-08 only 3 out of 816 water supply schemes were tested. This is clearly an area of concern as it leaves users vulnerable to water borne diseases. Rampant mining has also led to pollution of water sources. Also rivers from where water is sourced are affected by anthropogenic activities such as rampant car washing, bathing, washing clothes etc.
Under the Jal Jeevan Mission every household in Meghalaya is to get piped water by December 2022. Will this remain an aspiration only? As of today most citizens are buying water from private sellers. Water tankers do brisk business in Meghalaya. The High Court might take note of this too as it suggests the failure of the state to provide potable water to its citizens.