Education troubles

Education troubles

This refers to your editorial “A school too hard to attend" (Mint, 22 July). Right to Education is a great tool that can transform the education standard in the country, but here the big question is whether schoolteachers also think along the same lines. Your comments on comparison between private educational institutes and government schools make sense, but government schools do not have the kind of infrastructure to compete with private schools. The case of the postman’s son might be one in isolation, but the government needs to do some serious thinking about it. Both monetary benefits and motivation are lacking among teachers at government-run schools. Parents on their part also need to change their attitude and send their wards to schools to educate, rather than ask them to work from a tender age.

— Bal Govind

Diamonds are expensive as they are rare, yet have very little use in our daily needs. On the other hand, fresh water, essential to human existence, is often thought of as a free or low-priced commodity, mostly due to its abundance. This may change in the near future, with demand for fresh water slowly inching towards its supply potential.

India and China, with one-third of the world’s population, have less than 10% of the world’s water resources. Some studies project a fresh water crisis for two-thirds of the global population within the next quarter of a century. In addition, countries such as India suffer from huge geographical and seasonal disparities in the distribution of water.

Water has two particular features that differentiate it from any other commodity. First, we cannot replace water with anything else. Second, using water is not the same as consuming oil—whereas we break oil down into its constituent chemicals, the usage of water only transforms it into a different form.

Thus, as scarcity builds, a lot of activities are expected to happen in the water sector. In developed countries such as the UK, we come across increasing private sector focus on water. In India, too, a lot of activities have started in the private space in this business.

The water sector can be classified into two segments from a supply perspective— treatment of water and distribution to consumers. Whereas the treatment segment has generated a lot of interest among companies, the distribution segment has been slow to take off due to risks around metering, billing and collection, coupled with low tariffs. In the treatment segment, there is a lot of merit in looking at treatment and recycling of waste water, 80% of which goes untreated. Recovering fresh water by treating seawater is another option. An extreme example can be found in some of the West Asian countries which generate water from air due to extreme scarcity. However, all these technologies are fairly energy-intensive and contribute further to climate change issues.

On the usage side, the sector caters to industrial, commercial, domestic and agricultural consumers. While reforms are under way, supply to domestic and agricultural consumers is expected to be regulated, with states intent on putting up independent regulatory authorities following the first such in Maharashtra.

There have been a lot of efforts from the government and the private sector to structure meaningful private public partnerships. That interest is growing, with the water market in India projected to reach $30 billion by 2013.

With gradual dipping of groundwater tables and possibilities of many rivers not reaching the sea in the future, water, or blue gold, may truly become scarce— may be as prized as diamonds. Leaving aside the prospect of drastic innovations, we should spread the awareness that usable water is a finite resource and aim at adopting various conservation techniques. Meanwhile, look out for a huge industry as it shapes up with its own opportunities and challenges.

— Tirthankar Nag