The Right to Water in the Slums of Mumbai, India

Bull World Health Organ 2015;93:815–816

2 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2018

Date Written: 2015


Attaining universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 (sustainable development goal 6) will be a major challenge, particularly in urban slum communities. In 2012, over 860 million people – about a third of the urban population of developing countries – were living in slums. The primary barriers to accessing water in slums are not solely monetary or technical but also legal, institutional, and political.

In December 2014, the Bombay High Court in India ordered the city government to extend access to Mumbai’s water supply to residents living in non-notified slums. By some estimates, Mumbai has the largest slum population of any city in the world, with more than half of its 12 million people living in informal settlements. Two aspects of the judgment may be particularly relevant for the public health community. First, the court order uses a human rights-based framework, holding that the right to water is central to the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Second, the court finds that water access should not be tied to the property rights of a slum, thereby disentangling security of tenure from the right to water. Although the high court ruling and subsequent policy have shortcomings, these two arguments allowed the court to cut through what were previously considered intractable legal barriers to water access in non-notified slums.

Human rights-based frameworks that emphasize a universal right to water may play a valuable role in overcoming barriers for access to water and thereby help to promote health for marginalized urban populations. This is an important lesson as the global community endorses the goal of achieving universal and equitable access to water for all.

Keywords: Human Right to Water, Slum, Settlement, Mumbai, Bombay, India

Suggested Citation

Subbaraman, Ramnath and Murthy, Sharmila, The Right to Water in the Slums of Mumbai, India (2015). Bull World Health Organ 2015;93:815–816. Available at SSRN:

Ramnath Subbaraman

Tufts University ( email )

Medford, MA 02155
United States

Sharmila Murthy (Contact Author)

Suffolk University Law School ( email )

120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics