Rohini Nilekani, chairperson of Arghyam, raised R163.5 crore in August by offloading part of her stake in IT major Infosys, which she wants to spend in expanding the domain of her philanthropic work. Governance, transparency and independent media are among the areas she is looking at currently. Nilekani has been working in the water and sanitation sector in India since 2005 and Arghyam has set aside a fund of R250 crore for initiatives around water and sanitation. Here, she talks to Darlington Jose Hector and Anand J on themes close to her heart like water, ecology and social entrepreneurship.
Can water distribution be privatised? Can we do these things on a for-profit basis when most parts of the water ecosystem is heavily subsidised by the state?
We haven’t taken an official ideological position on this. Our vision is equity and sustainability. If these two things can be taken care of, it does not matter who is doing it—whether it is a community or the state or the market. But what we have seen over the past decade is that both the government and corporates can be mightily oppressive. Will it be profitable for a private player to get into water distribution? For that we will have to have good concessionaires between the state and the private parties. For the citizens, this has to be equitable and sustainable and also be seen as equitable and sustainable. But, please show me where this has been met well. Europe is moving the onus of water supply ecosystem back to the public sector, because it is very hard for market to look at equity issues. Rather than a whole chain, some parts of the ecosystem may be amenable to be privatised. Total privatisation cannot happen in India. Whose water is it? Who can be entrusted with water on behalf of the public? I don’t see private organisations playing a key role in basic
water management—certainly not asset management.
How do you see the indiscriminate use of groundwater by private parties for profit?
In a way, much of India’s water is already privatised. There are many