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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Revisiting the human right to water Parmar, Pooja


This thesis critically examines the mainstream discourse on the human right to water and suggests that it is narrow, inadequate, and meaningless to all those who see in such a forrnulation neither a recognition of their suffering, nor a possibility of its mitigation. In addition to highlighting the limitations of the mainstream discourse, the thesis also sheds light on alternative ways of formulating a more meaningful right to water. The thesis first traces the origin and legal basis of the human right to water within international law. Thereafter, four broad themes that constitute the mainstream discourse on the right to water are identified based on an analysis of the ’soft law’ and prominent scholarly literature on the topic. These are - (i) the right to water as an entitlement, (ii) the right to water as a consumer right, (iii) the relationship between the right to water and the right to development, and (iv) the right to water and governance. The abovementioned aspects of the mainstream discourse are revisited and problematized by using critiques of human rights drawn from critical legal pluralism, post-colonial studies, critical development theory, post-modemism and studies broadly referred to as the Third World Approaches to International Law. It is suggested that when viewed from alternative perspectives, the right to water, as conceptualised within the mainstream discourse, appears as being meaningless to people in ’most of the world’. The inability of the mainstream discourse to look beyond the dominant notions of ’rights’, ’development’ and ’governance’ and the assumptions they are based upon, and further, the failure to incorporate other meanings reduces the emancipatory potential of the human right to water. Adopting an alternative approach, the thesis documents a grassroots movement in Plachimada in India which grew from the people’s resistance to the excessive extraction of groundwater by a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Company. The case study illustrates the inadequacy of the mainstream formulation of the right to water. It also reveals opportunities for understanding and defining the right ’from below’ and creates hope for the recovery of its emancipatory potential.

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