Challenges for India’s water sector presents exciting opportunities for EU-India knowledge sharing, collaborations & technology transfer

Guest Editor: Ananya Roy  | Communications Executive |  European Business and Technology Centre

The most critical of all natural resources and a priceless commodity, water in India is under relentless pressure due to spiraling demands from a burgeoning population, rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, and climate change. Although the country is blessed with an abundance of water resources and large rivers, it is currently facing the terrifying possibility of becoming a water scarce country by 2025. Vital for energy security, food security, livelihoods and even health, efforts need to be strengthened to improve availability and access to water for domestic, agricultural and industrial demands. According to WRIS, only 28% of the total available water can be utilised.

This presents an abundance of opportunity for new technologies, innovations and solutions to strengthen and cater to the fast growing water requirements. In light of this, the sector is expected to see an investment of $13 billion (approx. €11.5 billion*) from overseas players in the next few years.

Although the future is uncertain, it is expected that by 2025 there will be an increasing demand for domestic and industrial water consumption due to economic developments, and therefore a reduction in water availability for irrigation. At the current rate, research by IWMI on ‘India’s water future 2025-2050’ projects that the domestic and industrial sectors will account for 54% of additional water demand by 2025, and by more than 85% by 2050. The report is also optimistic in some areas, stating that irrigation efficiencies could decrease water demand for irrigation which would be sufficient to meet future food demands. With rapid urbanisation and expansion of domestic water supplies, the quantity of wastewater is also rapidly increasing with an estimated 70-80% of total water supplied for domestic purposes becoming wastewater.

Examples of critical areas

According to an economic appraisal of water pollution in India by IDFC, almost 70% of surface water resources – and a growing percentage of groundwater reserves – are contaminated by biological, toxic, organic, and inorganic pollutants that make it unsafe for human consumption, irrigation and industrial use.

India is one of the worlds’ largest groundwater users, accounting for more than a quarter of the global total. According to India’s Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), Groundwater accounts for over 60% of the total area irrigated in the country. About 85% of the rural drinking water supply is also met from groundwater resources. The Board states that the most significant change is that the share of bore well irrigation went up from just 1% (1960-1961) to 60% (2006-2007). There is therefore a major focus on efficient groundwater management and technologies for this.

Essential for development, energy is inextricably linked with water – almost all forms of energy production rely on the supply of water, with fossil fuels having the biggest water footprint. In India, the power sector will account for 98% of additional water withdrawals and 95% of additional consumption between 2010 to 2035.

A paradigm shift towards water resource management

To tackle some of the problems presented by growing industries, there is a growing focus on Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) which essentially means that no liquid waste should leave the premises of an industrial unit. ZLD is critical to address the problems presented by industrial effluent, especially when an industry doesn’t comply with environmental norms. Strategies to develop Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) models are also increasingly being explored and implemented. This also presents a prime opportunity for technologies to embed the 3R system of reducing, reusing and recycling to utilize raw materials and energy with minimum waste or zero discharge.

Promising initiatives and opportunities

One of the five goals of the National Water Mission (NWM) is to increase water use efficiency in all sub-sectors by 20% by 2017. Furthermore, providing solutions presented by water constraints is a fundamental factor for the success of new initiatives prioritized by the Government. Many facets of these initiatives are guided by the environmental agenda.

For instance, Make in India’ aims to increase manufacturing – a sector that is largely dependent on water. The ambitious 100 Smart Cities Mission’ aims is to make cities more livable and sustainable, which means there will be an increasing focus on environment, energy, transport and other clean technologies. A facet of the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission aims to eliminate open defecation and promote Solid Waste Management, whilst the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Transformation (AMRUT) aims to ensure that every household has access to tap water and sewerage connections.

The National Mission for Clean Ganga’ aims to abate pollution and rejuvenate the river Ganga. The Indian Institute of Technology Consortium (IITC) responsible for preparing the Ganga Rejuvenation plan emphasized that given the magnitude of capital expenditure involved for the project, it is essential for PPP models to succeed. Certain conditions are crucial for this to succeed. Firstly, ZLD must be essential for large industrial polluters, and secondly, a market needs to be created for treated sewage.

EU-India projects

Promising projects are currently underway to address water concerns. For instance, the European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC) has cooperated with a number of joint EU-India initiatives such as:

  • Water4Crops is a large bi-lateral Indo-European collaborative research project co-funded by the Department of Biotechnology (GoI) and the European Commission. The project addresses water and wastewater reuse and management through ‘integrated bio-treated wastewater reuse with enhanced water use efficiency to support the green economy in the EU and India.’ The project period is from 2012-2016.
  • Launched in 2013, EBTC and ETI Dynamics are strategic partners the EBTC Water Partnership for India (EWP-India) to support the deployment of innovative EU technology and expertise in the India Water Development Programme (IWDP) in key polluting industries such as pulp & paper, distilleries and tanneries in the Ganga river basin.
  • EBTC also partnered with the ReserWater Innovation Foundation – India’s first water innovation cluster.

EBTC & the Ganga Rejuvenation Project

The largest river in India, the Ganga provides water to approximately 40% of India’s population across 11 States. However it is now considered to be one of the most polluted rivers in the world, with over 2900 million liters of sewage being discharged into the river, way above the capacity of the sewage treatment plants.

Upon election, Narendra Modi started the Namami Ganga Development Project – an integrated Ganga Development Project. A massive budget of 20,000 Crores was announced in May 2015 for the flagship programme which integrates the efforts to clean and protect the Ganga.

EBTC is currently kick-starting activities for a Ganga Rejuvenation Project in line with priorities set by the Mission. The intention is to create a holistic, sustainable action plan within a multi-stakeholder framework involving researchers, business and government. This includes the development of an engagement model to provide an avenue for EU businesses to get access to projects and collaborate with Indian counterparts.

Focus areas are Municipal and Industrial Waste Water Management; Water Management; The Water-Energy-Food nexus; Sustainable waste collection, treatment and management; Waste-to-energy; Sustainable Agriculture; Flood Protection; Decentralised Sanitation Systems, and Urban Development.

Multi-stakeholder mode of collaboration crucial to addressing the water crisis

In order to tackle the crisis and make headway in balancing supply and demand, India needs to take strong actions and increase investments in areas such as in recharging groundwater, new and efficient technologies, increasing crop productivity, and so on.

Experts are optimistic that water shortfall and quality can be met through the implementation of innovative solutions for the efficient use of water resources. For instance, there is a lot of scope for high-tech water treatment plants design and technology.

For optimum development and management of the water sector, collaborations and partnerships need to be harnessed between stakeholders. EBTC is a programme co-funded by the European Union and coordinated by EUROCHAMBRES.

For more information please write to environment@ebtc.eu or roy@ebtc.eu

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