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Feature | February 2010

We need attention to infra, not government subsidies, for water treatment

Bangalore-based Wipro Water’s entry into the business began in 2008 with the acquisition of Aquatech Industries.The company has expanded their horizon since, using its strengths in technology tie-ups. The company is now expanding its water treatment business into the power industry. Hariprasad Hegde, Vice President & Business Head, Wipro Water, talks with Purva Khole.

In spite of so many water treatment and purification technologies, why is drinking water still a problem in our country?
Drinking water is not only an issue of water treatment. Treatment is a very small component or a small subject of how one needs to count drinking water. Or in terms of the structure, availability of water, the source from where you are getting it, and the infrastructure are the issues. The solution for water threat is building efficient infrastructure, reusing water. If you want to use fresh water, then you do more by reusing. If we get our act right then we can improve the situation.

When looking at drinking water you need to look at multiple aspects. In urban settings, there is a huge amount of activity so in this kind of setting it will continue to be a challenge to provide safe drinking water throughout the day. The infrastructure needs to be looked at. We need better solutions such as zonal management of water. Today, the waste water or the sewage water is transported all the way across the city and then treated and sent out into the natural body. When we need to bring down the net water consumption, we should do it at the point of usage. There needs to be a different way of managing water. When all these work together, it will certainly address the water problem.

The water continues to be unacceptably more contaminated in India than in western countries. What is the current market size of water treatment in the country?
Water market is complex and depends upon the segment. There is no definition. If one has to look at industrial water and waste water treatment, it could be anywhere on the upside of about Rs 2,000 crore. Drinking water gets very complex depending on what we include in the market. Water treatments or a service—if you are including services then it is going to be huge. A large part is still in the hands of public bodies.

What are the new technologies in water treatment?
The industrial water treatment technology is significantly mature. However, there is a new innovation or technology burgeoning regularly on the application side. Membrane separation has been a good recent development. Based on the context, membrane separation for desalination would be a preferred route compared to thermal desalination. Similarly, there are low pressure technologies in fresh water treatment.

So there are several new technologies emerging into the market. We are solution providers; we try and get early in the adoption of a technology and understand its applications. Depending on the client’s requirement and the kind of input water, we can together decide the process we use to treat the water.

In industrial water, the client-end requirement is typically the quality of water. The process is decided on two parameters: whether it is a power plant and high purity water is needed, and the kind of source of the water. We then design the plant, erect and commission the plant. Then if there is an opportunity, we also service and run the plant. So the technology, application will depend on the quality of input water, source water and the desired water.

Is water treatment a viable proposition as  a stand alone business?
Water business has existed for many years and there have been no government subsidies. For water treatments there are government subsides so that good drinking water is available. We do not need government subsidies for water treatments, but more attention should be given to infrastructure.

How does desalination hold up as an alternative option for water treatment in India?
If you are looking at the issue of scarcity of water in India, there are multiple things that have to be done. You have an example of the desalination plant in Chennai. What are the things that we can do? Can we improve water management? Can we improve other fresh water resources? It is not an either-or situation. In these solutions, desalination also has its play.

Is desalination a better route for industries?
It is difficult to say whether it’s better for industrial or domestic use. It is contextual. For any water infrastructure, water transportation is the primary requirement. It depends on if you are pumping it up then a significant amount of energy is required. If you are transporting it across distances, a certain amount of infrastructure is required.

How do you think automation is applied to water management?
It is significant. If you have an automated treatment, there will be a far better mechanism to manage your work. It would help managing your plant function.

Which are your ongoing projects?
We are executing one or two thermal power plants. There are 2-3 desalination projects in Rajasthan.

Do you plan to enter the desalination sector?
We have the capability to completely enter desalination. For the large desalination plants we will get into it as and when there is an opportunity. We are already there in the medium segment, which is anywhere between 5-25 million litres per day (mld).

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