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Why a nice cooperative system isn’t working

Why a nice cooperative system isn’t working

Over the last three decades the industrial sector in India has reportedly quadrupled in size, no doubt providing several benefits. With World Water Day on 22 March, Janaki Krishnamoorthi explores why government efforts at creating cooperative waste water treatment plants have failed, and explains why industries’ contribution in conservation will augment business opportunities.

The phenomenal industrial growth in India has impacted our water resources in two ways.At one end, the demand for water from the industrial sector has increased placing a strain on the already stretched out water supply. And it is only going to get worse  the requirement which was around 37 billion cu m (bcu) in 2010 is likely to be 67 bcu in 2025 according to an estimate by National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Development.On the other hand, many of these industries generate huge quantities of waste water, much of which is being dumped untreated into water bodies.

By adopting process and technologies that reduce water consumption and by treating  the effluents and reusing the treated water, in other words by adopting the practice of the three Rs  Reduce, Recycle and Reuse, industries can ensure effective use and conservation of water. However, the wastewater management, which has been evolving in phases starting from effluent treatment to recycling and reuse, has been far from satisfactory.

The following facts and figures bear testimony to the fact:
•Heavy metals in groundwater have been found in 40 districts across 13 states
•Six districts in the Ganga plains of West Bengal have high levels of arsenic
•Use of untreated waste water for irrigation has reduced agricultural production in some areas

Despite the existence of several laws, regulations and regulatory bodies at the Centre and state levels and numerous programmes, the implementation of 3Rs has been moving at snail’s pace.The reasons are not hard to find. They vary from low awareness levels, policy variation across states, to poor monitoring, enforcement and little incentives.

Ramani Iyer of Forbes Marshall is on several committees that work on water related issues including 12th Five Year Plan Committee for urban development in water supply and sanitation and CII’s National Water Council. He says the real problem is that water’s small price doesn’t pinch enough. “Cost of water for the industry is still a miniscule part of the overall outlays,” Iyer reasons.“Awareness about the implications of dumping wastewater into the environment is still poor. Pollution control regulatory actions lack both teeth and efforts in creating awareness on these matters. The repercussions are proving disastrous to the environment with cultivable land turning fallow (molasses) and many rivers turning into cess pools. Costs of remediation can be overwhelming both in social and economic sense.”

While admitting that there may be some short comings in the implementation process, JS Kamyotra, Member Secretary, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), places the responsibility squarely on the State Pollution Control Boards (STCBs): “The standards are set by STCBs in their respective states and enforcement also rests with them. There have been some shortcomings due to various reasons like lack of infrastructure, man power etc. But no doubt they are trying to ensure that the norms are complied with and both SPCB and CPCB are trying to help the industry to meet the norms.”

Industry watchers shake their heads in rejection of the argument. “The driver for people to use recycling and reusing is economics,” points out Shyam Asolekar, Professor, Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.As someone involved in research and consultancy projects and has headed several committees related to water and effluent treatment, he believes that very few industries would recycle out of environmental concerns. “The challenge therefore is to create policies that motivate industries to adopt proper water management practices and create a win-win situation.”

Excepting for some periodic pronouncements and some flexing of the pollution control threats, there is no policy to speak of to promote wastewater treatment by industries, and experts believe there is neither incentive nor punitive action. “There should be non-monetary incentives for promoting water conservation and exemplary punishment for polluting environment,” says Iyer.

Small and not-so-beautiful
The fact that a large amount of industrial wastewater is generated by small and medium scale industries (SMIs) is yet another major reason behind the water pollution. SMIs scattered across the country account for over 40 percent of the total industrial output and generate over 44 percent of hazardous wastes as compared to 13 percent produced by large scale industries. And not surprisingly, only a small fraction of the effluent discharge from SMIs is treated.

The small industries do not have the resources to meet regulatory standards as the cost of treatment plants often defeats the cost advantage that SMIs enjoy. “High operational and maintenance cost, lack of space, technical manpower, economically viable technologies and common treatment facilities” are the factors for SMIs not to run water through treatment plants, says YR Nagaraja, Managing Director, Ramky Infrastructure Limited, an integrated wastewater major that has set up more than 40 industrial wastewater treatment plants and systems in the last 10 years for diverse industriesand CETPs.

A failed cooperative movement: To resolve this problem, the Central Government in 1991 introduced the concept of Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs). These plants were built in various areas for clusters of SSIs so that the wastewater from all the units could be collectively treated. Under the scheme, clusters of small industries in an area came together and formed a trust or an association, and with the support of SPCB and state industrial development corporation set up a treatment plant.While the Centre and state governments provided an assistance of up to 25 percent each of the total project cost, the balance was met through contribution by the SSI and loans from financial institutions.This not only minimised the capital and operational costs for individual units, but also addressed other problems like lack of technical assistance, space and discharge of treated effluents, etc.

The cooperative nature of the concept should have guaranteed the plants’ success.Yet they failed to deliver. Most of the effluents treated in these CETPs did not meet the stipulated norms.The CPCB which studied the performance of 78 out of 88 CETPs operating in the country in  2005 reported that majority of them were not up to the mark due to improper operation and maintenance (O&M).Only 20 CETPs complied with the prescribed limits for general parameters pH, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), chemical oxygen demand (COD), and total suspended solids (TSS) but 15 of these were not able to comply with the prescribed limit for total dissolved solids (TDS). In other words, only five CETPs out of 78 were complying with all the prescribed parameters.

Since then some action has been taken to rectify the situation, assures Kamyotra: “Immediately after CPCB’s report, in the areas identified as critically polluted no industry was permitted. Action was also taken to rectify some of the CETP’s and today there is tremendous improvement in their performance.”

As of now there are over 150 CETPs in India but no one seems to know their performance status. And all of them only treat wastewater and there is no provision for recycling or reuse. Surprisingly, the National Water Policy (NWP) adopted in 1987 and revised in 2002 has no mention of reusing of treated water, which is being included in the draft policy 2012 now under review.

The government is however now planning to address this issue too while setting up new CETPs.Set up three months ago, a team is expected to submit its report by April end.The study being conducted by Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoE&F) and CPCB will assess the performance levels of all the CETPs as also on other associated issues. Apart from assessing the performance of all the CETPs through site visits, the study will recommend rectifying measures, policies, technology selection, scale of operation, clusters which are not covered by CETPs etc.

The government is also planning to revise the earlier guidelines on CETPs to make it more effective. According to a senior official from MoEF, the proposed changes include an increase in the Central subsidy from 25 percent to 50 percent, making recycling/reuse  mandatory and extending  the support to cover upgradation of existing CETPs where required.

With almost 50 percent of small scale industries (SSI) clusters yet to be covered and little attention being paid to medium scale industries, no doubt there is a long way to go.

Star Performers
Relatively speaking, large scale industries are ahead not only in the treatment of effluents but also in the recycling and reusing sector. These include chemical, petrochemicals, paper, textiles, steel, power  all of which generate maximum wastewater. Food and beverages, automobiles and general engineering have also been proactive towards implementing the 3Rs in their plants.

Diminishing water supply: Declining supply of raw water has made the recycling and reusing an attractive economic alternative for the industry as it reduces the quantity of pure water purchase and the quantity of waste diverted to treatment facilities there by saving on  treatment costs.  So more and more large industries, are looking at “total water management,” instead of treatment alone.

Some states like Tamil Nadu have enforced Zero Liquid Discharge norms. Other states may follow suit. By adopting the 3R methodologies, industries have been reducing their demands from public water sources or authorities drastically, say industry watchers. Total water management has also improved overall plant management by forcing them to revisit their original plant design and engineering. “Some soft drink majors, large size paper units and even five star hotel chains have set exemplary leads in their waste water management,” Forbes Marshall’s Iyer says.

 â€œEffluent treatment is traditionally considered an expense with no returns,” analyses CK Sandeep, Vice President Marketing, Ion Exchange (India) Limited, a leading company in the water and environment management sector that has commissioned several wastewater treatment and recycle systems. “But with new raw mate­rial recovery tech­nologies through recycling of waste water, and as water is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive, there is an increase in return on invest­ment (ROI).”

Technology drivers
The treatment technology and techniques vary wi­dely  from the simplest treatments involving solid/liquid separation such as sedimentation, aerobic biolo­gical treatment, oxidation ponds, to more complex systems involving a combination of physical, chemical, and biological processes. More advanced technologies in­clude reverse osmosis (RO) microfiltration, nano­filtration and membrane technology.

All these technologies are available in India. “State of technology is so advanced today that we can achieve even higher quality than those specified by regulatory boa­rds. For instance, today it is possible to achieve even 3 mg per litre BOD or 10 mg per litre COD,” Asolekar says.

Treatment technologies of wastewater vary acco­rding to the treated water quality required for disposal, for re­use or for recycle.Currently, industries are going for inno­vative technologies like Sequential Batch Reactor Technology (SBR), Moving Bed Biological Reactor Technology (MBBR), Membrane Bioreactor (MBR), etc for secondary treatment followed by ter­tiary treat­ment with membrane technologies to get good quality water which can be recycled in indus­trial processes.

However, to arrive at an apt technology one has to assess them in the context of treatment requirements, states Asolekar. “It is not readily available in the market.One has to look at various aspects like quantity and quality of waste, periodicity of generation, time available for treatment etc, before deciding on a technology. One may have also combine several technologies, bring seve­ral components together and build a solution.”

Considering the payback
In general, however wastewater treatment is per­ceived to be expensive.The costs entail planning, desig­ning, execution and O&M, apart from land costs.The cost will vary depending on several factors including the type of industry, type of discharge, application and tech­nology used  whether natural (biological) or mechanised.

Factoring cost-benefit long-term: The capital and operating costs of recycling technologies are much more expensive than conventional treatment. Also, there is no guarantee of performance by the individual industries. Ramky’s Nagaraja says the disposal of treated effluents is problematic as every individual industry cannot reach the water body through its own pipeline nor can it purchase land for inland irrigation: “The annual O&M charge would be in the range of 10-20 percent of invest­ment. However, the cost can be minimised by recycle / reuse of treated water, waste minimisation and effective wastewater management. Recycle technologies are considered beneficial after a few years, if payback of recycled water is considered.”

With proper planning, significant reduction can be achieved by segregation, treatment and by recycling at source, say experts. “A well designed system can almost always provide usable / treated water at a cost lower than fresh water,” says Ion Exchange’s Sandeep.

CETPs are shining example of why, along with te­ch­­nology, proper O&M is vital for performance.Even pla­nts built with latest technology with a lot of au­t­o­mation, if not operated and maintained properly can tar­nish the results.“This is why worldwide there has been a dramatic switch from a product oriented to a ser­vice driven app­roach,”says Sandeep. “A 360° solutions-with-service trend is also being increasingly adopted in water manage­ment.Total water management capability ena­bles value addition across the customer’s entire pro­cess cycle, while comprehensive service sup­port ensures high performance continuity, translating into significant com­pe­­titive advantage and bottomline benefit to the customer.”

Emerging Market
India is emerging as one of the most challenging markets for water professionals, offering promising invest­ment opportunities to both domestic and foreign players.Evidently, opportunities are galore in the water treatment market from providing feasibility studies, technical consultation, designing, and providing operation and maintenance services.The new trend of outsourcing operations and maintenance (O&M) by industrial houses to professional companies opens up new possibilities. So the water industry which is reportedly growing at a rate of 10-12 percent every year has a lot to look forward to.

“We intend to set up National Water Informatic Centre”
Urban water is stuck between developmental goals, inefficiency and lack of many benchmarks of success in PPP. Dhruv Vijay Singh, Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources, explains in an emailed response how the 12th Plan may change that.

What are the main issues in efficient urban water management today in terms of resources, groundwater depletion, finance, etc?
The major challenges in the water sector are in the form of reducing per capita availability of water due to increasing popu­lation, deterioration in quality, over-exploitation of groundwater resources, sub-optimal utilisation of created facilities and relatively lower efficiency of facilities for water utilisation.

What new programmes and incentives are on the anvil in the new National Water Policy?
The draft National Water Policy (2012) is not yet in the final stage.Once a broad consensus emerges on the policy recom­me­ndations, action plans would be prepared to implement those policy recommendations. Meanwhile, we have taken major initiatives during the 12th Plan period, including:
• Expansion and strengthening of hydrological data collection
•Setting up of Water Informatic Centre
•Aquifer mapping and participatory management of ground water for sustainability;
• Setting up of National Bureau of Water Use Efficiency for promotion regulation and ensuring water use efficiency
•Undertaking demonstrative projects for improving efficiency in water sector
•Sensitisation and capacity building of local bodies/water user associations
•Amalgamating Command Area Development with Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme for reducing the gap between irrigation potential created and utilised, etc.

What is the government doing to map water resources around the country? How can these be harnessed for better efficiencies in water supply and management?
It is imperative to scientifically assess and periodically review the availability of water resources (both surface and ground water) in the country.Earlier assessments were made with regard to availability of surface water resources and replenishable ground water resources.A committee has been constituted to review the assessment ofsurface water resources. With regard to ground water resources, comprehensive aquifer mapping is being undertaken for assessment of replenishable as well as non-replenishable groundwater resources in the country. A pilot project for aquifer mapping in six blocks has already been initiated.

A realistic assessment of available water resources would help us to better manage this limited resource optimally and in most efficient manner.

Are the available water information systems adequate?
At present, water related data are not easily available.During 11th Five Year Plan we made an attempt in setting up a water information system and now we are planning to bring all water data, other than those classified as secret, in public domain. We intend to set up a National Water Informatic Centre to collect and collate water related data (non-classified) regularly from all over the country and maintain in open and transparent manner on GIS platform.

There is plenty of technology in metering, including Smart Meters. Do you believe the state governments have done enough in metering our water-homes?
Several state governments and municipal corporations have taken great initiatives towards metering water supply in cities, but there are constraints, such as, inadequate availability of robust and reliable water meters.Union ministries provide financial and technical assistance to supplement the efforts of state governments and municipal corporations in this regard.

Private participation in water through PPP has not taken off with great enthusiasm.What are the reasons?
Water should not be looked purely from economic consideration.As such, water sector cannot be made totally commercial in order to attract private sector participation.It is for the community and local governing bodies to evolve appropriate PPP model for ensuring efficient and reliable water supply system.

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