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21 April 2017 Question Bank


21st APRIL 2017 


(2 Questions)

Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.

Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.



1.      Should water be privatised? Give your stand with justification.


Water woes:

  • Water is an asset of society and cannot be owned by the government, let alone the private sector.
  • We have over 50% non-revenue water (water put into the distribution network after being treated is untraceable).
  • We have irregular water supply hours ranging from a few hours daily to once a week or perhaps once in two weeks.
  • We have 60% pipe coverage and hardly 4% metering, leading to large wastage of water with no accountability.
  • In sewage, 38,000 million litres per day (mld) of untreated sewage is discharged in lakes and rivers. The Ganga receives 12,000 mld of sewage per day.
  • We lose over 10 crore person-days every year due to water-borne diseases.

Groundwater ownership

  • India's most important water resource is groundwater. It provides 80% of our rural and urban drinking water, as also industrial water and more than two-thirds of water for agriculture, which takes up most of our water resources.
  • Groundwater in India is governed by 19th century British Common Law, which states that whoever owns the land has the right to draw unlimited quantities of water from below that land.
  • Thus, private property in land extends to private control over water.
  • In many respects, our water crisis today is the result of this privatisation of groundwater, which we inherited from the British.

Water table problem

  • It is not adequately recognised that nearly two-thirds of India's land mass is underlain by hard rock formations. The natural rate of recharge of these rock formations is very low.
  • Thus, once you extract water from these rocks, rainwater takes a long time to percolate below the ground and restore the water table to its original level.
  • From the 1970s onwards, we started using tube wells to extract groundwater. Private extraction of groundwater happened in a competitive race to get water from greater and greater depths.
  • In Punjab, people are drinking water that has uranium in it; in Bengal there is arsenic. This is because groundwater has been treated as a private resource, which has been subject to destructive competitive extraction.
  • A classic example is that of a soft drinks giant depriving the people of gram panchayat Plachimada in Kerala access to drinking water.

Water is in public trust

  • As the recently drafted National Water Framework Law (NWFL) states, "water is the common heritage of the people of India; an inseparable part of a people's landscape, society, history and culture; and in many cultures, a sacred substance, being venerated in some as a divinity". Such a resource must never be privatised.
  • Indeed, as the NWFL goes on to say: "The State at all levels holds water in public trust for the people and is obliged to protect water as a trustee for the benefit of all".
  • And that no one's use of water should lead to depriving anyone of his or her basic right to water for life.
  • So much so that even a "delegation of water service provision to a private agency will, in no event, constitute the privatisation of water".
  • Thus, the Public Trust Doctrine enunciated by the Supreme Court, rather than privatisation or nationalisation, is the answer to India's water problems.

Harness private efficiency

  • The PPP model needs to add another P - to stand for people who have to come on board as the largest stakeholder in the water sector.
  • One million farmers in the hard rock districts of Andhra Pradesh have already shown us the way. Once they understood the nature of their underlying aquifers, they came together to sustainably and equitably manage their shared groundwater. They adjusted their cropping patterns to bring them in line with the water available to ensure that the water would last them in good stead over a long period of time, while maintaining its quality.



2. India must first secure its digital sovereignty before it can begin global trade talks. Elaborate


  • Global trade treaties are no longer just about reducing tariff. They represent a whole new global legal system supplanting national policy space and sovereignty, in the interest of global big business.
  • With the digital phenomenon restructuring most social sectors, it is little surprise that global trade negotiations are now eyeing the digital area in an attempt to pre-emptively colonise it.

Who owns big data

  • Big data is the key resource in the digital space. It is freely collected or mined from developing countries, and converted, or manufactured, into digital intelligence in developed countries, mostly the U.S.
  • This digital intelligence forms a kind of "social brain" that begins to control different sectors and extract monopoly rents.
  • Uber's chief asset, for instance, is not a network of cars and drivers. It is digital intelligence about commuting, public transport, roads, traffic, city events, personal behavioural characteristics of commuters and drivers, and so on.
  • To judge how the digital society is shaping, just extrapolate this situation to every sector; not only the regular commercial ones but also key social areas of education, health, agriculture, and, indeed, governance.
  • Most key data required for policymaking is increasingly with global data companies.
  • Would the society or government then buy data and intelligence even for crucial public purposes from these digital companies, when the data actually come from our various social and personal interactions over digital platforms? Does the ownership of the platform give corporations economic ownership of all the data so produced? Is ownership of data of sensitive sectors to be treated differently? These are key political economy questions that must be sorted out first.

Digital Trade Talks

  • Fronting for the global big business, developed countries make three key demands at digital trade talks.

1.      Free and unhindered access to the "network" running throughout our society to mine social and personal data.

  • This includes full access to local networks, right to set up networks, no custom duties on digital goods, no requirement of local presence, no local technology use or technology standards commitments, and no source code transparency for digital applications that run through our social and personal spaces.
  • Basically, it demands India must give up its right to regulate digital technologies and networks within its territory.
  • Such regulation is required to ensure an equal playing field, open standards, privacy and security-related protections, promoting local technology content and other positive discriminations, like for open-source software which is Indian policy for public sector use, and for economic and social protections.
  • We are being asked to give up our technology or digital sovereignty even before we have been able to identify and institute our digital rights, policies, laws and regulation.

2.      Complete free flow of data across borders, with no requirement of local storing, even for sensitive sectors like governance, banking, health, etc. 

  • Free global flow of data is a significant expression of self-declared ownership by global digital corporations over the social and personal data that they collect from everywhere, including India.

3.      Exclusion from future regulation of all services other than those already committed to a negative list, which will of course include e-versions of every sector.


  • The WTO ministerial in Argentina in December 2017 will be a key battleground for whether WTO should start negotiating digital trade issues.
  • These issues also figure in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership talks among ASEAN-plus countries (including India).
  • India must resist any digital trade negotiations at this time. It has little to gain from them, and much to lose.
  • It must first build its digital sovereignty - and digital rights - before it can begin negotiating a part of it in global trade talks.
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