Hariharan Subramaniam, Chief Operating Officer, Earth Water Group tells Sarika Malhotra that with an annual per capita water availability of less than 1970 cubic metres, India is facing the brunt of water scarcity and water reuse and recycle is the only tenable solution to this problem.
What should be the big learnings for international water companies entering India?
Indian market is very competitive and there are many national and international players already in the market. As per our EverythingAboutWater survey, the Indian market is one of the top three most competitive water markets in the world. Expectation that they will just show-up and business will come to them is a wrong estimation. Companies need to wet their feet on the ground, and do a lot of spadework, before they can be successful. Finding right partners in India is big key as companies failed to build the right partnerships did not succeeded. Due to the competitiveness, cost structure needs to be spot-on. They need to be lean as a company cannot build too many overheads. At the same time, project execution in India is torturous and there are many hidden costs and delays. So, getting the right cost understanding in India is important to win projects and make profits. Many companies swing to either extreme. Either they are too conservative and win no orders or they are too aggressive and end up burning their bridges. And most importantly, international companies in India need to be patient. They cannot expect short-term returns in 1 or 2 years. Unless, they are ready to invest for a long haul (5 to 10 years), they are better-off not entering the market at all.
How is recycled water industry faring?
Wastewater recycling is a major opportunity area. Currently, less than 1 per cent of the total wastewater in India is recycled. But, there is increasing pressure on industries like refineries, metals, chemicals, textiles and tanneries to recycle their effluents. Opportunities are being developed where municipal sewage is being treated, and supplied to industrial clusters with a public private partnership model.
How are industries responsding to the growing need to use recycled water?
Many industries have realised that the wastewater within their industry might well be the cheapest and most reliable source of water for them. Applications like gardening, landscaping, washing and, particularly, cooling towers consume huge volumes of water which need not necessarily be of very good quality. Recycled water make ideal sense for usage in these uses. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Chennai faced a huge water scarcity problem. The deficit of fresh water sources meant that industries had no water available and had to make alternative arrangements. Madras Fertilizers and Chennai Petroleum Corporation became the pioneers in sewage recycling in that period. Chennai Metro provides secondary treated sewage to these industries at a prescribed rate. They do tertiary treatment on that sewage and use the same for process and cooling water requirements. Subsequently, GMR Power Corporation also started buying raw sewage from Chennai Metro, treating the same and using it for its power plant water requirements. Today, a large number of industries are practicing sewage recycling including Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers in Mumbai, Maruti Udyog in Gurgaon and Ford Motors in Chennai. A number of forward-looking cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune are recycling their sewage.
What are the challenges and scope of recycled water?
Today, technology is good enough to produce the highest quality of water, as good as packaged drinking water quality. Still, there is a psychological barrier felt by people to drink recycled water. Due to this reason, recycled water may be used for other non-potable purposes or be used in groundwater recharge. Singapore has pioneered the concept of NeWater, which talks of recycled water as being absolutely new and pure. The Singapore Public Utilities Board (PUB) has invested heavily on educating and sensitizing the common public on the quality of recycled water. A natural evolution of the same is the concept of Zero Discharge, where industries completely reuse every drop of processed water and nothing is discharged outside the unit.
Today, there are numerous examples of successful sewage recycling projects across the world. Cities in India like Surat and Jamnagar have also developed projects for recycling sewage and supplying to industrial clusters. Recently, the Coimbatore Corporation is planning to re-use treated water from the Ukkadam sewage treatment plant. The civic body has set up an urban green forest inside a one-acre land located near the sewage treatment plant. The treated water has been used for this purpose. While the rest of the water remains unused and is dumped into the Noyyal river, the civic body now plans to supply it to industries and companies.