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Revealing the loopholes in water management, Vivek Shah, Managing Director, K Pack Systems Pvt Ltd, points to the opportunities created and impact of the government´s initiatives.
Why is water and waste-water management in such a bad state in India?
There isn´t a simple answer or cause to this. The way I look at it is a two-fold answer. Firstly, we are a water stressed country, with our population hovering around 1.2 billion and with the increasing population, this situation is likely to get worse. As of today, we have 1000 m3 of water per person per year, compared with US or Europe, with 8000 m3 per person per year. The minimum required is 1700 m3 per person per year. This situation can´t be solved overnight because it took over 60 years to manifest.
Secondly, there have been delayed and insufficient investments in urban and rural areas for water treatment facilities. Water in most rivers is unfit for domestic purposes, let alone drinking. Sewage and effluents invariably go into streams, lakes and rivers, polluting the water due to which health is compromised. Alternatively, it goes into the ground, contaminating the same water used by people for drinking. Surveys of groundwater are finding higher and higher levels of microbiological contamination. This compounds the deadly and costly spiral. We have seen some action in recent times, but the facilities aren´t maintained well. The reasons could be untrained staff, inadequate fee charged, and improperly captured basic know how of the equipment. Added to this, the industrial effluent standards are not enforced strictly, so the industries end up causing a lot of damage due to their insensitivity. We need a model in which there is reprimand and recognition, depending on which end of the scale you belong to. If we could look at a model where some sort of the subsidy is provided to industries which are treating water, it will bring about additional awareness and the equipments would pay for themselves over the years.
Is part of the problem the high costs of water treatment technologies and solutions?
It´s a great question. But there isn´t a black and white answer. Yes, there is a lot of money that is being spent currently on R&D by most companies and this is likely to push costs up. However, in the long term these costs will come down. At K Pack Systems we are constantly looking at avenues to reduce costs by right sourcing, focussing on operational efficiency and providing the right solution rather than the best solution. There is definitely a business case on the equipment paying off its costs over a period of time.
These technologies should be looked at like investments and not expenses.
What is the kind of growth in demand you expect for water treatment solutions? Where do you see the biggest opportunities?
I believe that the growing disparity between supply and demand represents a huge opportunity. We expect business in India to go up by 15-20 per cent per annum, and at the same time, we are looking at global markets, predominantly in developing countries going up by 10-15 per cent. Water treatment technologies will continue to lead the pack as this is a highly specialised area. We are continuing to build expertise in-house and by the way of JVs to service a larger base of clients. We are market leaders in treating water in oil & refineries and manufacturing industries. We have strategically tied up with a partner to enter the anaerobic and aerobic bioreactor space, which helps increase our foot print. The ballast water treatment area also presents an interesting opportunity. Apart from the water treatment technology, I also see a huge opportunity in the filtration and membrane technology area. These are ´consumables´ and hence see a recurring revenue generation from that area. Finally, we are investing in a lot on our laboratories as there is going to be increased focus on fulfilling strict standards of water purity which would lead to repeated sample analysis and will also enable us to conduct a lot of R&D activities on water treatment chemicals.
How much has the government´s initiatives helped to improve health and sanitation awareness? Do you see any business opportunities here?
Swachh Bharat and Clean Ganga are great initiatives. At the moment, more than financial opportunity, they have brought about a huge sensitivity towards water and nature which was absent earlier. This in itself is a huge paradigm shift. We are working very closely with government bodies and agencies in both areas. The two per cent mandatory CSR spend is also a move in the right direction. We are seeing positive traction in increasing awareness and focussed spends on improvement in environmental standards in general.
What are the kinds of solutions and expertise you have to address sewage water treatment?
We have a product specifically to treat sewage in every household. It is a low cost equipment which is based on the principle of an immersed oxidative bed: water is cleaned biologically by micro organisms (active sludge) that attaches itself to the carrier material in the aeration compartment. The system operates without electrical pumps for the supply or transport of water, so in case of power failure, the discharge will not be obstructed. This is a cost-effective and low maintenance product catering specifically to small and medium household needs.
How are you helping address the challenges of clean drinking water?
Our key focus area is rural India and how we can partner with various government bodies and external agencies to elevate the water quality. We have done a lot of CSR activities at a group level, where we have 11 machines installed in remote villages. These are easy to operate simple machines that are treating and pumping water for consumption. Additionally, due to our expertise in treating industrial waste water, we are working on several government initiatives to purify water near the rural industrial belt and making it fit for drinking.