Panel to finalize tech solutions on water contamination, scarcity

Panel to finalize tech solutions on water contamination, scarcity

New Delhi: The government, which was recently pulled up by the Supreme Court for failing to provide long-term solutions to several water-related problems, is finalizing a blueprint listing technological solutions that can address issues such as shortage and contamination.

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As part of a mission called WAR (winning, augmentation and renovation) on Water, a committee set up by the science ministry is identifying 25 regions that face all water-related problems seen in the country. Companies and government bodies will commission pilot projects to tackle the problems faced by each of these regions.

The chosen sites will have around 2,000 families each and the technology solution providers are expected to provide 40 litres of water a day for bathing and washing, and 3 litres of drinking water per family per day at Rs125 a month.

The apex court had in April and August directed the government to find solutions to India’s water woes on the back of a public interest litigation by advocate M.K. Balakrishnan, seeking protection of wetlands for preservation of environment and ecology, and asking the Centre to constitute a body of eminent scientists to conduct scientific research in this area. The initial costs of setting up the technology-solutions project will be borne by government, and based on the success of the technologies employed, the government will submit a report to the Supreme Court.

According to WAR on Water documents reviewed by Mint, the key areas of focus will include making rainwater harvesting more efficient, treating arsenic, fluoride and iron contaminated water, making saline water potable, and finding cheaper alternatives to expensive water treatment technologies such as reverse osmosis and distillation.

“Solving the water crisis is a technological and management issue. Desalination plants by themselves are not a solution everywhere. So this is a step to concretely look (at and) understand the level of usability of each technology," said science and technology secretary T. Ramasami.

“The good thing is that we will get some fresh solutions to our water related problems," said Shailesh Naik, secretary, ministry of earth sciences. “However, we still have to wait and see how well this is implemented. If the tech doesn’t reach the people, then the mission won’t be successful."

Naik was one of the experts consulted in the formative stages of the mission. A separate wing of the science and technology department, headed by the secretary, will be carved out to monitor these projects. Tentatively, the project has Rs145 crore to spend on its efforts in the first two years, and this amount may be revised in the future, Ramasami said.

India’s water woes are wide-ranging. A 2007 report by the government, called the Trombay Symposium on Desalination and Water Use, which formed the basis of the Supreme Court directive, says that water resource management “ going to be the most serious problem that the country will be facing in the 21st century".

According to a Planning Commission report, India’s annual precipitation is 4,000 trillion litres, of which only 1,869 trillion litres can be utilized. Of this, less than 1,123 million litres is used.

Groundwater, which accounts for 433 million litres, contributes 70-80% of the water used in farms, about four-fifths of the domestic water supply in rural areas and about 50% of water used in urban areas and by industry.

Climate change, the Trombay report says, already accounts for 20% increase in water scarcity with the remaining 80% being due to population increase and economic development resulting in water pollution.

Demand for fresh water by the industrial sector rose from 3% of availability in 1990 to 4% in 2000 and will be up to 11.5% in 2025. The share of irrigation demand is projected to decline from 84% in 2000 to 73% in 2025, the report adds.

Meanwhile, contamination in rivers and lakes and inefficient treatment plants prevent surface water in rivers such as the Ganga and Yamuna from being effectively utilized.

The science ministry is already working on technologies around desalination through a subsidiary research wing called the National Institute of Ocean Technology, as well as testing cheap water filters in states such as Karnataka and Orissa.