Rethinking Right to Water

Availability and accessibility of adequate water is critical for maintaining optimum sanitation and leading a healthy life. However, it has taken a global pandemic to make this fact evident. Maintaining adequate hand hygiene is a prerequisite for avoiding the novel coronavirus infection; global advisories suggest washing hands with soap and water multiple times a day. But in India, where 163 million people do not have access to clean water, handwashing for 20 seconds becomes a luxury for some.

By magnifying the catastrophic consequences of an unsanitary environment, the current pandemic has reinforced the importance of availability of adequate water for personal hygiene. Concomitantly, it has also problematised India’s interpretation of the right to water, an interpretation that subsequently informs the state’s policies to address water scarcity. Whilst the Constitution does not readily provide the right to water, the
Supreme Court has read it within the right to life. Apart from conceiving it as a general entitlement to drinking water, available to all persons, the content of the right is far from certain. The pandemic problematises this rendition on two counts.

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