Recognition of the right to water in Indian courts has had little impact on the ground. This paper explores the seeming disjuncture between what happens in the court and the everyday reality of living with a less-than-perfect claim on city water services in India’s urban slums. The paper seeks to understand and contextualise a court ruling which looks like it declares a right to water for people in urban slums, but in effect gives them little beyond what they already had. The paper also looks at the ‘everyday reality’ of municipal administration and the provision of drinking water in slums through in-house connections and community taps. In both case studies, the author looks to understand how the practice relates to frameworks of law and policy that shape the rationality and scope of action of the actors concerned, both judges and municipal officials. She found that the issue of land was the main stumbling block in both places, but it was conceptualized a little differently in each situation. These case studies underscore the critical importance of making the local interface between poor people and the state more empowering in order for rights to become local and meaningful.
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