Just try to see for a moment in your mind's eye that citizens are carrying expensive cylinders on their backs for breathing clean air. This bizarre imagination now will not harm us as much as the harm it will cause when this really happens, not as any bizzare scenario but as normal as carrying a plastic bottle of water nowadays. In that imagined period, only those who will be able to buy clean air cylinders will be living in certain posh cities or be members of certain elite clubs with those cylinders becoming a symbol of status. Then there may also be TV programmes advertising all the health benefits of such equipments filled with so many nutrients! Fresh Air Cylider business may flourish and GDP will keep jumping up for this unprecedented economic growth!
There was a time not long ago while we used to drink water free. No one thought price could ever be asked for a glass of water. If any person was thirsty, offering him/her a glass of water was regarded as an obligation for others who could do it. Only at railway stations very poor men and children carried jugs of water and thirsty passengers payed them money not as a price of water but as a respect to them for help in their times of thirst.
Now there are waters named this and that and scores of others and new brands arising every day. The price of these waters is a little less than the price of a bottle of some fruit juice of the same amount. They call themselves mineral waters the way a blind boy can be named lotus-eyed. Companies are really very innovative! Water is a natural resource like air, soil and sky that belong to every creature including men on earth and cannot be bought and sold for any business purpose. It is true no more.
The United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 64/292 calls upon "States and international organizations to provide financial resources, capacity-building and technology transfer, through international assistance and cooperation, in particular to developing countries, in order to scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all." General Comment 15 adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights affirms, "the human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses."
Therefore, bottling up water and selling it for profit is a clear violation of basic human right. But why companies will give anyone something free? Of course, they will not and they don't need to. The question is rather why companies grew up just a few decades ago to trade in water? What compelled them to enter into this bussiness? The more correct question is, rather, what compelled people to buy waters from shops? And the role of the state must be part of this question.
For private companies water has become the goose that lays golden eggs for them. They get it free from nature that is owned by none and so belongs to everyone and just by putting it into plastic bottles they charge a high price for it. These are the companies with different names who in the first place are responsible for polluting the water in rivers, canals and under ground. Rivers and canals are also being filled up for their real estate business. The government has been made inactive by the corporate lobbyists so that access to safe drinking water can be denied to citizens. Public goods are being extracted and bottled up and sold at a high price without paying any price for the asset to the government. And the environment is being further polluted with empty plastic bottles littered everywhere. The crises corporate have created for people are being used for profit and for creating more crises for more profit.
Public goods are not safe in the country for this long term corporate design and the inaction of the government. Not only water, many other public goods will be turning into commodities and going into plastic bottles or packets or capsules. As no one ever imagined that water could be sold as a commodity, so no one imagines now that air can also be sold as a commodity some day in future if this trend of corporate intrusion into public assets and the inaction of the government continues.
Public property like roads, forests, air waves and many others are going into private hands on a regular basis without people noticing this. TV channels and mobile companies have occupied our sky. The dire consequences of this are many deaths by lightning strikes in recent years and trees under mobile phone towers bearing fruits fewer than before. There are hazardous impacts of the towers on the people living under or near these. Yet, no company takes any responsibility for these damages. Television broadcasts news and stories that have a flimsy connection with the mass life.
Corporate responsibility does not arise automatically or on its own; people and the government must force corporations to compensate for the bad consequences caused by their business activities. Protests are growing up in many parts of the world against such corporate intrusion into public things. We also must try to stop the invasion of all home and foreign corporations against those natural properties that belong to none but people at large. If people fail to do it, the extraordinary growth of GDP along with the innovative growth of fresh air business in mini cylinders may not be a too distant prospect.
The writer is Executive Editor of SHIKKHALOK, a CDIP education bulletin
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