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"Challenge Is To Implement Recycling And Reuse Measures In Economically Sustainable Manner"
In light of the WaterEX Conference and Expo taking place at Chemtech Gujarat from February 10-12, 2016, Girija Dalvi interviewed A B Pandya, ex-Chairman, Central Water Comission and Chairman, Central Advisory Board – WaterEX Gujarat 2016 where he shared his views on how crucial recycling and reuse of water is in water management, Ganga Rejuvenation, tackling water woes with the burden of growing population among other important aspects.

1. Recycling and reuse of water are becoming more and more crucial in water management. What are the technologies that could create a balance between the desired demand and desired supply?
Recycling is becoming more and more important in view of our increasing urbanisation and industrialisation. We need to focus more and more on bringing the primary employment sector to industry than agriculture as it exists today. This is necessary to re-establish the economic viability of the agriculture as well as sustaining the economic growth to bring up millions above the poverty line through sustained employment opportunities. At present we have about 38 billion litres of sewage every day that amounts to 13.87 billion cubic metres of water, out of which a significant portion can be re-used if treated and will make a sizeable dent upon the freshwater requirements of the country as far as the process and cooling requirements are concerned and also will go towards reducing pressure on the water requirements for vegetable and other short term crops growth round the year. The treatment technologies employing bio remediation and desalination hold promises for the solutions. Important need for any technology will have to be its economic sustainability at least during the operation and maintenance phase. Reducing the energy footprint of the technologies will also help to a great extent.

Apart from that, we will need to harness the surface water resources through strategic storages and implementing the large scale programmes like Inter Linking of Rivers programme. The better harnessing of the surface water resources will lead to reduction on the stress on ground water and will also provide resilience against the climate change.

We need to holistically implement the recycling technologies with the long term vision of developing our water resources in a coupled fashion to achieve the desired balance.

2. Do you believe Ganga Rejuvenation can be as effective as the case of Rhine river in Germany or Thames in London? How can that be implemented as effectively as in the case of Rhine or Thames?
becoming as effective as in the above cases provided we are able to bring in all the stakeholders to accept the same goal. As far as the examples of Thames and Rhine goes, we need to appreciate that the hydrological context of the water availability in these rivers is entirely different than that existing in Ganga. In case of Rhine and Thames, the water availability throughout the year remains highly uniform as compared to Ganga, which being a monsoon fed river with predominant rainfall based flows, has a huge variation between monsoon and non-monsoon seasons. We should supplement the non-monsoon flows by strategic storages in the basin and attempt to improve the demand management by increased efficiency of usage coupled with matching the same with reuse and recycling.

The challenge is to implement the recycling and reuse measures in an economically sustainable manner. There has to be a revenue model for operation and maintenance of the hardware assets created else the investments will not have a lasting effect. Annuity model is being tried out and time will tell the success of the same.

3. The growing population and changing demographics will add to the demand for water. How do you see the various states working internally to tackle their water woes? Is it possible to carry out collective efforts by the states for this?
Most of the states are aware of the need for a sustainable source of water for their growing needs. However, demands have grown at such a level that it is not possible for every state to be self-sustaining. All the river basins are spanning across units and it is necessary that there is an informed dialogue amongst the co-basin states so that the demand supply scenario in the basin is not adversely affected. Government of India is actively working towards assessment of basin level water resources and promoting the dialogue through basin level studies which can result in setting up of a river basin organisation amongst the participating states.

For an overall solution, ultimately, the interbasin transfers programme colloquially known as Inter Linking of River programme will have to succeed. Active efforts under the watchful eyes of the Supreme Court are on to generate the necessary consensus for implementing this programme in stages.

4. In your last interview with CEW, you had mentioned having efficient policies in place for improving quality of waste. Has there been any significant progress on that front?
Improving the quality of waste water for enabling it to have other uses is being planned in case of Yamuna and some parts of Ganga basin. We still have to go a long way in this area as the same is falling in the domain of local bodies. The local bodies do not have adequate knowledge capacities and the finaicial health too does not permit them to take up the works on their own resources. Further handholding especially through the Urban development programmes is necessary.

The progress will have to come gradually as the awareness increases.

5. The Jurong Island Chemical Hub is a good example of how industries can thrive in the face of shortages of crucial requirements like raw materials, water, etc. Do you see such a scenario happening in India and how far in time?
Jurong Island is an ambitious development by Singapore attracting investments in the range of USD 35 billion. It is apparent that the industry being setup there is being asked to depend upon the poor quality water as inputs by suitably treating it and also return an assured quality water back to the system. Extensive efforts through inviting problem specific consultancies and designs are being made in this direction. The efforts of reducing energy consumption in the membrane based treatment processes and using bio mimicking in the remediation processes are quite interesting and worth emulating.

Such a scenario can be replicated in the coastal regions of our country as reduced treatment costs of desalination can be beneficially exploited by using the residual water emerging out of some of our nonperennial rivers and leaving appropriate quality water so that the marine environment is also not degraded.

6. A UN report published in 2014 states that by 2040, there would be no drinking water left in India and by 2025 almost 3.4 billion people would be living in ‘water scarce’ countries. How do you think we can bring about more awareness among the people of this grim situation and persuade a change?
The UN report does not paint a realistic picture as the overall quantum of water available annually is not changing drastically. The present concept of 'use and throw' will have to be abandoned in respect of our urban and industrial water supplies. At present there is considerable quantum water requirement for (almost 80% of the deployed water) for irrigation and agriculture purposes. We need to improve efficiency for this sector to make more water free for the drinking and industrial sector. The major constraint in the availability of the drinking water to the urban populations is the treatment and distribution networks. National water policy categorises the drinking water demand as the highest priority one but the lack of appropriate management and revenue models for the urban water supply make the last mile connectivity difficult.

We need to bring about a change in the mind-set of the consumers and make them amenable to pay for the resources used. Also, we need to improve land use management in our industrial and urban areas so that the specific quality demands of consumption by the livestock and population and the process water demands of the industry can be supplied out of different sources. A thrust towards treatment and use of poor quality water and technologies like low energy desalination will be useful in remote areas where the fresh water availability is naturally constrained.

7. Can setting up small effluent treatment plants in and around the Ganga region viz, the textile zone in Kanpur and Banaras save the industry from shutting down? What are the challenges you foresee in setting up these plants and how can they be successfully resolved?
The effluent treatment plants will have to cater to individual communities and the size will depend on the size and output of the community concerned. There are about 118 towns and communities which are located in immediate vicinity of the main river stream of Ganga and their sizes are quite different.

In order to set up the plants, land is required for the same and also the plant has to be connected to its catchment area that it is planned to serve with a dedicated sewage/ effluent conveyance network. These measures are location specific and will need to be handled as such.

In addition, it would be a good idea to set up industrial clusters catering to the specific type of industry eg, textiles. In that case, it will be possible to design the plant for the specific type of effluents emerging out of the industries in the cluster. There are specific legal provisions implemented through Central Pollution Control Act jointly administered with the State Pollution Control Board. Though the industries can be directed to maintain necessary facilities. Many industries have also come forward voluntarily offering the cooperation in this regard.

8. What is the ONE thing that you would actually like to see happening in India to give a boost to the chemical industry’s growth? If only you are given one choice.
I would like to see chemical industry to come up and reduce its footprint on the water quality area. The industry is primarily reviled and objected to on the grounds of water and air pollution that it created in its immediate vicinity. The industry needs to come up with economic zero effluent models for its clusters. The industry needs to look at the examples of Singapore industrial management and emulate the same. Chemical industry is a very vital component of our industrial growth as it produces a number of key ingredients required for the rest of the economy. The industry has to come out of its polluter tag by managing the water resources in an exemplary manner.