Dirty water spills over into $2-b business
Posted on December 16, 2010 | Author: Nidhi Nath Srinivas | View 240
Expanding cities, larger factories, intensive agriculture and changing weather patterns are depleting water faster than we think.
Indian cities, factories and farms are now collectively spending $2 billion on technology to reuse every drop of water. But saving the environment is not the only thing on their minds.
The real reason pushing investment is the TINA factor. People know there is no alternative. ET helps you join the dots.
Take India Inc. For most factories, water is essential raw material needed for cooling, heating, washing or as fuel. From collieries and crude oil refineries to food processors, hotels and car factories, everyone needs continuous water supply.
But it is expensive. A cluster of 70 dyeing units in Tirupur used to daily pay private tankers 6 lakh for water of dodgy quality.
By recycling water, they spend only 4.5 lakh. You can’t ignore such savings.
Stricter environment laws are another incentive. The pollution control inspector is the new excise inspector.
Many companies have been allowed to expand capacity only if they promise not to discharge a drop of effluent.
Pressure is mounting from customers too. Foreign consumers demand to know the virtual water footprint — or how much water is used in the entire production chain — of everything from clothes and cold drinks to cement, milk, meat and fuel.
For Indian exporters who want the premium tag of sustainability, water conservation becomes compulsory.
The strongest motive is independence from sarkari water supply. Companies no longer wish to be held hostage to municipalities diverting water to homes and farms or turning off the tap at whim.
Twenty desalination plants along the coastline allow factories, especially oil refineries, to use seawater instead of fresh water.
Most use the same reverse osmosis technology in our kitchen water purifiers. It is not a small investment.
Chennai Petroleum Corp spent 350 crore to build the country’s largest desalination plant. But you get assured supply for life. The peace of mind is priceless.
City municipalities are investing in water treatment and sewage recycling, nudged by the central government.
In the last five years, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission has sanctioned 260 water supply and sewerage treatment projects worth 40,000 crore.
With empty wallet no longer an excuse and greater consumer awareness, it makes political sense to invest in safe drinking water and clean riverfronts. Chennai is building a 1,100-crore desalination plant to use seawater as drinking water.
In villages, the triggers for investment are different. Our 700 million farmers use almost 85% of the total water supply.
India also is the world’s top user of ground water. Yet it’s not enough. Fields are either flooded or parched because supply is erratic. Rains are unable to top up the receding water table.
That has led to falling yields and stagnant incomes despite record commodity prices.
Loss of profit is forcing growers, small and big alike, to maximise water usage. You have to do concept selling and proof of selling, says Anil Jain, managing director of Jain Irrigation.
Drip irrigation — customised pipes that allow a farmer to control the timing and volume of water that reaches each plant root — is now used on five million hectares. Cost-sharing by state governments encourages even a one-hectare farmer to invest 50,000.
And he knows higher yields from correct watering will return his money in one season.
Insufficient drinking water for village people is the other anxiety. Water in wells and ponds is often laced with chemicals, minerals and metals that deform and poison human bodies.
The more alert district administrations are investing in treatment plants, using cash from programmes like the Rajiv Gandhi rural drinking water mission.
Are we close to water conservation nirvana? Not so fast. Despite strict environment laws, apprehending polluters is patchy. Outside metros, bureaucrats often lack awareness.
Awarding government projects to the lowest bidder frequently becomes race to the bottom of the quality ladder.
When sub-standard treatment plants stall, technology gets a bad name. Red tape and delay in subsidy payment deter farmers and companies. Farmers with no well or storage tank, and no electricity connection to run the pump can’t use drip irrigation.
Even so, the water technology business is growing 15% annually, says Ajay Popat of Ion Exchange that owns Zero B brand. And this is barely the start.
India has 20% of the earth’s population, but only 4% of its water. Expanding cities, larger factories, rising household consumption, intensive agriculture and changing weather patterns are depleting it faster than we think.
We always took water for granted. Not any more. Fresh water is so scarce, even dirty water has become precious.
Risk analysts say World War III will be over water. Treating effluents is one way to stay secure.