Untangling India’s clean water supply and sustainable sanitation situation before Ukraine’s Cleantech Mission to New Delhi and Bengaluru

Eight Ukrainian clean technology companies prepare for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development-supported business mission to India (April 21-27, 2019).

During our second visit to India, R&S Quantum will offer there our waste and water cleaning solutions that result in enriched soil and organic fertilizer products for the soil-depleted South Asian country.

This time our focus will be on meeting milk processing plants, biogas plants, municipal water and sanitation utilities as well as chicken farm owners/decision makers. We will also bring to the attention of our Indian counterparts clinoptilolite and clinoptilolite-Ag composite water filters.

In preparation to the mission, we set to figure out the complexity that is water supply and sanitation in India.

India has 14 major rivers, 44 medium rivers and 55 minor rivers besides numerous lakes, ponds and wells which are used as primary source of drinking water even without treatment. Most of the rivers being fed by monsoon rains, which is limited to only 3 months of the year, run dry throughout the rest of the year often carrying wastewater discharges from industries or cities or towns endangering the quality of scarce water resources.

At 39 million hectares (67% of its total irrigation), India has the world’s largest groundwater well equipped irrigation system (China with 19 mha is second, USA with 17 mha is third)

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) of India, a statutory organisation under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, in collaboration with concerned SPCBs/PCCs established a nationwide network of water quality monitoring, which has running 1,019 stations in 27 States and 6 Union Territories. The monitoring process is done on quarterly basis in surface waters and on half yearly basis in case of ground water. It covers 200 Rivers, 60 Lakes, 5 Tanks, 3 Ponds, 3 Creeks, 13 Canals, 17 Drains and 321 Wells.

The Central Pollution Control Board says that 275 rivers out of the 445 it monitors are highly polluted. 70% of water is contaminated in India, placing the country as 120th among 122 in the water quality index.

200,000 Indians die every year due to inadequate access to safe water. By 2030, India’s water demand is projected to be twice its available supply, which means severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people.

By 2020, 21 major cities including Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad are expected to reach zero groundwater levels.

Around 2,000,000 people take holy bath in Ganga River on a daily basis. Currently half a billion people are living beside the banks of the river. By
year 2030, this number could get over one billion people. Uttar Pradesh alone contributes up to 50 % of the pollution load to the river. The river is severely polluted in cities like Varanasi, Rishikesh, Kanpur, Allahabad, Patna and Calcutta.

There are about 100,000 rural water supply systems in India. Most rural water supply schemes in India use a centralised, supply-driven approach, i.e. a government institution designs a project and has it built with little community consultation and no capacity building for the community, often requiring no water fees to be paid for its subsequent operation. However, The program, called Swajaldhara, decentralises service delivery responsibility to rural local governments and user groups. (See also: National Rural Drinking Water Programme)

Cost recovery in rural areas is low and a majority of the rural water systems are defunct for lack of maintenance. Some state governments subsidise rural water systems, but funds are scarce and insufficient. As of 2008 only about 10% of rural water schemes built in India used a demand-driven approach. Since water users have to pay lower or no tariffs under the supply-driven approach, this discourages them to opt for a demand-driven approach, even if the likelihood of the systems operating on a sustainable basis is higher under a demand-driven approach.


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Water supply and sanitation is a State responsibility under the Indian Constitution. States generally plan, design and execute water supply schemes (and often operate them) through their State Departments (of Public Health Engineering or Rural Development Engineering) or State Water Boards.

The institutional setting for providing water in urban areas varies from state to state. State level Public Health Engineering Departments (PHEDs), specialised statewide water supply and sewerage boards (WSSBs), specialised city-level WSSBs, and Municipal Corporations (MCs) and urban local bodies, are the leading providers of water in urban India. Apart from these, some other bodies such as various Ministries and Departments, financial institutions, external support agencies, NGOs, and private sectors also play direct and indirect role in water supply.

Except for the National Capital Territory of Delhi and other Union Territories, the central Ministries only have an advisory capacity and a limited role in funding.

Since the assignment of responsibilities to municipalities is a state responsibility, different states have followed different approaches. According to a Planning Commission report of 2003 there is a trend to decentralise capital investment to engineering departments at the district level and operation and maintenance to district and gram panchayat, the only grassroots-level of panchayati raj formalised local self-governance system in India at the village or small-town level.

In Maharashtra at least 2,000 Gram Panchayats have achieved “open defecation free” status. Villages that achieve this status receive monetary rewards and high publicity under a program called Nirmal Gram Puraskar (exemplary village award).

It is sometimes possible to clean long stretches of a river in India despite the systemic obstacles if there is sufficient administrative will

In Allahabad, the judicial capital of Uttar Pradesh which lies close to the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati rivers, some 270 million litres of sewage once flowed into the two rivers every day through 46 drains. With new sewage treatment plants, boosting capacity at existing ones and using technology such as bio-filters and bio-remediation, the authorities stopped untreated sewage going into the Ganga and Yamuna. As a result, the biological oxygen demand, an indicator of water quality, dropped to healthy levels. The temporary shuttering of polluting industries in Kanpur, upstream of Allahabad, helped in keeping the pollution levels low too.

However, more that 60% of the water in the Narmada, a lifeline for Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, is unfit for drinking.

In Rajasthan the water management sector is more centralised and the state government is also in charge of operation and maintenance, while in Mumbai the sector is more decentralised and local government is also in charge of planning and investment.

Major cities of India produce 38,354 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage, but the urban sewage treatment capacity is only 11,786 MLD.

Some Indian cities gradually come up with city sanitation plans as per Indian government’ National Urban Sanitation Policy. Several hunded cities rated themselves in terms of their achievements and processes concerning sanitation in an effort supported by the Ministry of Urban Development with the assistance of several donors like GIZ, JICA, UN Habitat, USAID and World Bank.

The Ministry of Urban Development introduced in November 2009 a new benchmarking tool and award scheme (Nirmal Shahar Puraskar (exemplary city award)), aiming to address poor sanitation conditions in India’s urban areas. The scheme supports implementation of the National Urban Sanitation Policy, which seeks to mobilise governments and civil society to transform urban India into community-driven Nirmal Shahars, or totally sanitised, healthy, and liveable cities and towns.

Every urban dweller should be provided with minimum levels of sanitation, irrespective of the legal status of the land in which he/she is dwelling, possession of identity proof or status of migration. However, the provision of basic services would not entitle the dweller to any legal right to the land on which he/she is residing

Special role of NGOs and community-based organizations needs to be recognized, especially for community sanitation facilities.

CASE 1 National Capital Territory of Delhi

Munak Canal, one of the primary sources of drinking water for Delhi, is a 102 kilometer long aqueduct that is part of Western Yamuna Canal in Haryana and Delhi states in India.

Delhi has a network of about 14,000 km of water supply mains, of which a significant portion is as old as 40 to 50 years and prone to higher leakage losses. Normally, water losses are calculated by water billed or consumed subtracted from the water produced. In the case of Delhi, water billed or consumed and leakage losses there from cannot be calculated exactly as a majority of houses do not have working meters. According to the
estimates of Delhi Jal Board (the government agency responsible for supply of potable water to the most of the National Capital Territory region of Delhi), the total distribution losses are of the order of 40 per cent of the total water supplied. It took the Board 5 years to replace 1,200 km of leaking pipes.

The decreasing ground water level in Delhi has become a matter of serious concern. At some places in South and South West Delhi, the water level has gone 20-30 meter below the ground level. The quality of underground water is deteriorating in several places. The salinity of ground water is increasing in South-West and North-West Delhi. In some areas of Shahdara and Kanjhawala, Nitrate content has been found to be more than 1000 mg/ liter. Fluoride and chemical concentrations, more than prescribed limits, have also been found in ground water at various locations in Delhi. To tackle these problems, the Central Ground Water Board has taken steps to regulate the number of tube-wells being commissioned in Delhi.

The Flood plains downstream of Wazirabad and the area adjacent to Najafgarh Lake — Indian capital’s most polluted water body due to direct inflow of untreated sewage from surrounding populated areas — are being explored for extraction of water on sustainable basis. Pre-feasibility studies for ground water recharge through the abandoned Bhatti Mines and Canal system in the North Western region of Delhi have also been taken.

Approximately 55 % of the population (9.9 million people) in urban Delhi has access to a centralized sewerage system.

Delhi Jal Board has a network of branch, peripheral sewers of about 7700 kms. Also there is network of 200 kms of trunk sewers. The rehabilitation/ de-silting have been completed in a trunk sewer and is in progress in peripheral sewer.

Delhi Jal Board supply about 89 million gallons per day of treated waste water to the Irrigation Department, power plants and for irrigation purposes by others. Delhi Development Authority is responsible for 4,451 hectares of open spaces, all of which are irrigated via tube wells. There are also irrigation open spaces of Delhi Municipal Corporations, Central Government properties, private parks and properties, road verges, sports stadiums etc.

In an effort to bring clean water to the under-served communities by 2031, Delhi Jal Board has partnered with AECOM,  an American multinational engineering firm, to develop an integrated and sustainable master plan to improve sanitation conditions and enhance the water quality in River Yamuna, the largest tributary river of the Ganges in northern India.

AECOM is responsible for the following tasks:

Auditing 30 existing sewage treatment plants with a design capacity of 512.4 million gallons per day at 17 locations;
Hydraulic modeling of the trunk sewer for integration with the unsewered zone;
Flow monitoring and wastewater sampling at strategic locations;
Conditional assessment of 500 manholes for dovetail approach;

An extensive topo-survey and geotechnical investigation for 2,200 unsewered colonies;
Developing a wastewater management information system, including development of an enterprise geographic information system (GIS) framework, integration and close coupling of sewerage information in the GIS database to carry out hydraulic modeling;
Evaluation of the unsewered area for 1,600 remote colonies.

CASE 2 Bangalore, Karnataka

Bangalore is one of Central Pollution Control Board’s 7 zonal offices catering to a fixed number of states. Zonal offices undertake field investigation and send reports on Water Quality Monitoring, Air Quality Monitoring, Industrial Inspection and other such related activities to the Head office for further action.

Karnataka state saw a number of innovative solutions like public-private partnerships to improve the continuity of urban water supply.

In the cities of Hubli, Belgaum and Gulbarga in the state of Karnataka, the private operator Veolia increased water supply from once every 2–15 days for 1–2 hours, to 24 hours per day for 180,000 people (12% of the population of the 3 cities) within 2 years (2006–2008). This was achieved by carefully selecting and ring-fencing demonstration zones (one in each city), renovating the distribution network, installing meters, introducing a well-functioning commercial system, and effective grass-roots social intermediation by an NGO, all without increasing the amount of bulk water supplied. The project, known by its acronym as KUWASIP (Karnataka Urban Water Sector Improvement Project), was supported by a US$39.5 million loan from the World Bank. It constitutes a milestone for India, where no large city so far has achieved continuous water supply.

Access to the Kaveri river’s waters has pitted Indian states against each other for decades. Bangalore depends to a large extent on water pumped since 1974 from the Kaveri river, whose waters are disputed between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. As in other Indian cities, the response to water scarcity is to transfer more water over large distances at high costs. The Kaveri delta forms one of the most fertile regions in India. The river’s water is so toxic in some stretches that it is unfit even for irrigation.

In 2002 a consortium including Thames Water (the monopoly private utility company responsible for the public water supply and waste water treatment in large parts of Greater London) won a pilot contract — the first of its kind in the country at that time — covering 40,000 households to reduce non-revenue water in parts of Bangalore, funded by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. The contract was scaled up in 2004.