As the country grapples with poor water management, polluted water bodies, shortage of drinking water and water-borne diseases, businesses and entrepreneurs are coming up with unique solutions to quench the thirst of the people. Business Today profiles a few promising initiatives that could prove to be game-changers.
In a country where 125 million people do not have access to drinking water, Sarvajal's ATMs cater to 300,000 people every day at 30 paisa per litre of potable water. Since its launch in 2009, the company has installed over 180 water units across 13 states. "All one has to do is swipe the prepaid card and key in the amount required, and the machine dispenses the water. The Sarvajal server keeps a record of user transactions and deducts the amount used on the card," says Vasu Padmanabhan, CEO, Piramal Sarvajal. The company has got into partnerships with local entrepreneurs, panchayats and community-based organisations to run the water treatment plants. "Local community members are selected and trained to manage the purification units. The projects are also monitored remotely on a daily basis to ensure production and purity, and understand the consumption pattern for remedial action," he adds. The ATM units cost Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh, and the local partners can also earn up to Rs 35,000 per month. The plant works on reverse osmosis and UV-based filtration technology.
Sudesh Menon, who was tipped to take over as the South East Asia head of GE, quit the company to later launch Waterlife India in partnership with two former colleagues - Mohan Ranbaore and Indranil Das - in 2009. So far, the Hyderabad-based company has installed over 4,000 water purification plants to quench the thirst of over 12 million people across 15 states. Waterlife focuses on community water systems in villages and urban slums, and works in collaboration with governments, local bodies and corporate houses. Menon says that sustainability is key while providing high quality water over the long-term (five to 15 years), compared to systems that go defunct after the first year "due to poor maintenance or apathy". A Waterlife team first visits the village to map its drinking water requirements, analyses the viability and tests sources of water for contamination. Based on the findings, a customised plant is built. It costs anything between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 25 lakh. Operators are hired to operate and maintain the plant after rigorous training. "We expect to maintain revenue growth of 30-40 per cent per annum over the next five years," says Menon, adding that the World Bank's recognition of Waterlife as one of the pioneers in the provision of safe water in the bottom-of-the-pyramid market was a rewarding experience.
When Mahesh Gupta failed to get a quality water purifier for his children diagnosed with jaundice, he decided to make one himself. "Purifiers primarily work on the Ultra Violet principle, wherein the water passes through UV rays and the bacteria are killed in the process. For me, that was not enough because industrial activity has resulted in contaminated ground water, and impurities such as arsenic, rust, pesticides and fluorides," says Gupta, Chairman, KENT RO Systems. After several trials, he zeroed in on the reverse osmosis (RO) technology and the first KENT purifier was launched in March 1999 from his garage in South Delhi. In the first year he sold around 100 units for Rs 20,000 a piece, compared to the Rs 5,000 price tag of other available water purifiers in the market. Gupta claims, KENT RO now enjoys 40 per cent share of the RO market and is looking at Rs 1,000-crore turnover in 2016/17.
Nagpur was no different from the rest of India when it came to water mismanagement. "These inefficiencies clubbed with low tariff made the urban water distribution unsustainable," says Arun Lakhani, Chairman, Vishvaraj Infrastructure. So, when Nagpur Municipal Corporation issued tenders for 24x7 water supply in the city and another project at Bhandewadi for water reuse, Lakhani bid for both projects. For the Rs 550-crore 24x7 water supply project the company is supposed to provide continuous water supply to every household, improve the technical and commercial efficiency of the system, lay 2,100 km of pipelines, set up a water treatment facility and storage reservoirs, apart from providing 325,000 new house service connections. It is also responsible for metering, billing and collection of charges. "We carried out our hydraulic modelling of the city and, now, all households in Nagpur are getting at least three to four hours of daily water supply."