New Areas of Focus: Significant opportunities in sustainable water and waste management

Significant opportunities in sustainable water and waste management

India houses about 17 per cent of the world’s population and has only 4 per cent of global water resources. The country generates about 145,128 metric tonnes per day (tpd) of municipal solid waste. These staggering numbers make it imperative for both the government and urban local bodies (ULBs) to take effective measures to address water supply and sanitation needs. To this end, the government has already taken steps towards improving water supply and waste management through its various flagship initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT).

ULBs too are partnering with private players to adopt new ways of improving the existing water supply and waste situation. Emerging areas such recycling and reuse of water for tertiary and drinking purposes, zero-liquid discharge (ZLD) technology, desalination plants, smart waste management practices, and smart metering, among other areas, are becoming vital for providing world-class civic amenities to citizens. However, there are some inherent challenges that hamper the wide-scale adoption of these best practices such as lack of financial resources of ULBs to take these initiatives, shortage of skilled manpower for operating and maintaining smart infrastructure, lack of awareness among consumers with respect to the advantages of these measures, etc.

Recycle and reuse

In light of the dwindling water reserves, it is imperative for the government as well as ULBs to manage water resources judiciously. In this regard, the concept of recycling and reuse of waste water has started to gain significance. A number of ULBs have taken initiatives to encourage the use of treated waste water. For instance, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has developed 36 waste water treatment plants (WWTPs) in the city to treat waste water for non-potable purposes. At present, 420 million gallons per day of treated water is being produced at these WWTPs.

The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) also supplies 36 million litres per day (mld) of treated waste water to industries. It is constructing another two tertiary treatment plants (TTPs) at Koyambedu and Kodungaiyur. The plants will have a combined capacity of treating 90 mld of sewage.

In Mumbai, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai also has plans to develop WWTPs in Colaba, Worli, Malad, Dharavi, Bandra, Versova, Ghatkopar and Bhandup. The work on the Colaba WWTP has already commenced while others are currently at the planning stage. Once completed (by 2025), these plants will together have a capacity of generating up to 1,800 litres of tertiary water which will be used for various non-potable purposes.

The Nagpur Municipal Corporation recycles more than 90 per cent of its generated sewage and is in the process of increasing the capacity of its WWTPs with the aim of recycling 480 mld of waste water.

Zero-liquid discharge

More recently, a new technology – ZLD – has gained prominence. Using this technology, 100 per cent of the waste water generated is recycled. The Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company, a subsidiary of Tata Steel, is the first company in the country to have deployed ZLD technology in STPs and TTPs to completely eliminate discharge of effluents into neighbouring waterbodies. The technology involves a series of steps – ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, evaporation or crystallisation, and fractional electrode ionisation – to recycle and reuse industrial water for horticultural and irrigation purposes. Two treatment plants based on this technology, with a cumulative capacity of 40 mld, are currently being developed at Bara and Kharkhai in Jamshedpur.

Decentralised sewage treatment

Decentralised STPs is another concept being promoted to reduce exploitation of ground-water and reduce the burden on centralised STPs. As a result, decentralised STPs are being developed on a large scale under various government programmes. For instance, 10 decentralised STPs in Agra, with a cumulative treatment capacity of 9.38 mld, were approved for development under the Namami Gange programme in November 2018. Further, nine decentralised STPs with 22.5 mld capacity have been approved for development at Chattarpur under the Yamuna Action Plan III.

DJB is also focusing on setting up decentralised STPs to use treated sewage for horticultural purposes. A policy in this regard was approved in August 2018, under which it has been made mandatory for bulk users such as parks, schools, commercial complexes, industries and bigger institutions to install such plants. CMWSSB also has plans to construct 24 decentralised STPs with a total capacity of 360 mld in the city.

24×7 water supply

To provide an uninterrupted supply of water, the concept of 24×7 water supply has gained significant traction in the country over the past few years. After a few successful 24×7 pilots implemented in Nagpur, Amaravati, Hubli-

Dharwad, Belgaum and Gulbarga, a number of ULBs are making efforts to provide round-the-clock water supply. Various projects for continuous water supply are being implemented under AMRUT and the SCM. One such 24×7 water supply project in Agra involving area-based development works and installation of water meters will be executed as part of the SCM. Though bids have already been invited, the project is yet to be awarded.

Another continuous water supply project has been planned in Shimla at an investment of Rs 690 million. As part of the project, the Shimla Lift Water Supply Scheme at Chaba in Suni will be augmented to provide an additional 10 mld of water. In January 2019, the Urban Development Department, Assam, floated bids worth Rs 1.83 billion for implementing a 24×7 water supply project in Dibrugarh. Other water utilities such as DJB and the Guwahati Jal Board are also exploring possibilities of undertaking 24×7 water supply projects in their respective areas.

Desalination plants

Dwindling water resources and excessive groundwater extraction have resulted in a paucity of fresh water. Desalination has been identified as a successful technology to increase the supply of drinking water in coastal areas. After the development of the first 100 mld municipal desalination plant at Minjur (Tamil Nadu) in July 2010, similar plants have been set up in Jamnagar and Chennai. In Gujarat, Essel Infraprojects Limited is developing a 100 mld water desalination plant at Jodiya in Jamnagar district on a public-private partnership basis. Two other mega desalination plants of 400 mld and 150 mld capacity are coming up at Perur and Nemmeli, respectively, in Chennai. Both the plants will be based on the reverse osmosis technology. Work on the Nemmeli plant has already commenced while the one at Perur is at the bidding stage. Further, there are plans to develop desalination plants at three major ports – Paradip, Ennore and VO Chidambaranar.

Smart metering

A huge amount of water is lost in the process of distribution through pipelines, resulting in high levels of non-revenue water (NRW). There is a substantial mismatch between the amount of water a consumer actually consumes and the amount he is billed for. To overcome the challenge, smart meters such as displacement meters, velocity meters, compound meters and electromagnetic meters are being deployed on a large scale. While ULBs such as DJB, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board and the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation have already partnered with private players to install smart meters, others have either awarded contracts or have started inviting bids. Chandigarh Smart City Limited (CSCL) has recently issued bids to install 13,700 smart water meters,

though the contract is yet to be awarded. Meanwhile, the Pune Municipal Corporation had awarded a contract worth Rs 3.75 billion to Jain Irrigation Systems for laying 508 km of water pipelines and installing 49,000 water meters to reduce NRW levels in the city.

Smart waste management

Besides scarce water resources, Indian cities also deal with the issue of unscientific waste disposal. However, the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission and the SCM has resulted in the adoption of smart technologies to deal with the piling waste. Intelligent technologies such as smart bins with sensors, radio frequency identification tags on transportation vehicles and GPS are being deployed on a large scale. Further, mobile applications for effective and quick grievance redressal and efficient management of waste are being introduced. Recently, the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram launched the Swachhata application for faster grievance redressal related to waste management services. Also, in the past few years, regulatory reforms have made scientific disposal a must for managing waste at landfills.


The introduction of the aforementioned measures and initiatives in the water and waste sector has largely been restricted to a few big cities. More recently though, smaller cities too have started adopting these measures to improve civic services. To secure the full benefits of these initiatives, it is imperative that challenges such as poor financial health of ULBs, low level of private sector participation, shortage of skilled manpower, absence of accurate database with ULBs, and heavy dependence on public funds are addressed in a timely manner.

Therefore, concerted efforts  have to be made to spread awareness about smart technologies and roll out financial support in the form of subsidies. Steps such as 90 per cent rebate on sewer charges for those using decentralised STPs as introduced by DJB can be replicated by other ULBs too for greater uptake. An enabling ecosystem has to be created wherein all the stakeholders collaborate to introduce such world-class technologies. W