Reuse Potential: Progress and challenges in sewage and wastewater management

Progress and challenges in sewage and wastewater management

Over the past decade, cities in India have grown vertically as well as horizontally. Despite this enormous growth, the water and wastewater infrastructure has rema­in­ed almost the same. The global economic slowdown due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic also affected the growth of the segment. The lockdown led to a sudden halt in construction activities for almost all the ongoing wastewater projects in the country. How­ever, various projects were completed during the period and the government also announc­ed several financial assistance packages to help urban local bodies (ULBs). The Ministry of Finance re­lea­sed Rs 118.3 billion to states under the Spe­cial Assistance to States for Capital Expen­diture scheme. The scheme was announced in October 2020 as part of the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat package to boost the capital expenditure of the state governments affected by the financial impact of the pandemic.

A look at the sewage and wastewater treatment market, the new focus areas and challenges…

Sewage and wastewater treatment market

Sewage generation in India has increased rapidly over the past few years, from around 58,000 mld in 2016-17 to over 72,000 mld in 2021-22. Treatment capacity has also in­c­reased from 21,589 mld in 2015-16 to 26,665 mld in 2020-21, registering a CAGR of 4.31 per cent. As of March 2021, 72,368 mld of sewage was generated from urban areas in the country against which a treatment capacity of 31,841 mld is available.

Amongst all states, Maharashtra generates the highest amount of sewage (9,107 mld) followed by Uttar Pradesh (8,263 mld) and Tamil Nadu (6,421 mld). Further, as of March 2021, th­ere are 1,631 sewage treatment plants (STPs) in the country. Maharashtra (154) has the highest number of STPs, followed by Har­yana (153) and Karnataka (140). Maharashtra also has the highest installed treatment capacity (6,890 mld) followed by Gujarat (3,378 mld) and Uttar Pradesh (3,374 mld).

Over the past few years, the recycling and reuse of wastewater have also gained momentum in the country due to the initiatives taken by several ULBs. The use of treated wastewater for various non-potable purposes such as industrial use, gardening, car washing and construction has been encouraged. As per India Infra­str­ucture Research, at least 300 mld of recycling and reuse facilities will be constructed across the country in the next two to three years. These projects are expected to entail investments worth more than Rs 8 billion.

The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) has been assigned the task of developing a circular economy model focused on reclaiming, reusing and recycling water. The government is planning ways to monetise treated sewage water by selling it to power plants along the river. This move is one of the several endeavours of the six verticals identified under the Arth Ganga. The NMCG has identified 24 locations with a power plant nearby. Of these, there is a possibility of selling treated water in 11 lo­cations. In most cases, the power plants are either lifting water directly from the river, which may be polluted or using water that is not being charged. The selling of treated sewa­ge water will ensure a better quality of water. A similar experiment is under way with the Mathura refinery, wherein 20 mld of the treated sewage water will be provided to the refinery as part of the MoU signed.

In another notable development, a Benga­luru-based water utility company, Boson White­water, was founded to change the way industries, IT parks, malls and apartment communities recycle wastewater. Every day, a city like Be­n­galuru produces about 1,400 million litres of wastewater and a majority of it ends up in drains and lakes. Residential apartment complexes generate 30,000-300,000 litres of wa­stewater every day. This is a common problem in cities across India. The company converts water from STPs into high-quality potable water that can be used for household purposes, centralised air conditioning in commercial buildings as well as for drinking. The current ins­tall­ed capacity of the company’s system is about 340 million litres of water per year. It aims to to­uch 500 million litres of water saving by De­c­ember 2022 and targets 5,000 million litres over the next three years.

New focus areas

Often industries grow in a scattered manner in the country, which necessitates decentralised treatment (DEWAT) and reuse of wastewater by constructing STPs at the source rather than conventional large STPs in clusters. Also, due to the huge amount of investments needed for the acquisition of large tracts of land for setting up centralised systems, several projects re­ma­in only on paper and actual implementation does not take place. At present, the existing de­signed capacity of the DEWAT system in India is more than 500 kld.

Many cities are coming up with decentralised STPs in their areas. For example, the Delhi Jal Board has planned to build 56 decentralised STPs in the next three years to treat 92 million gallons per day of sewage. Cities such as Ambikapur, Jashpur, Leh and Devanahalli have taken up pilot projects and subsequently replicated the successful small-scale decentralised systems at a pan-city level for effective wastewater management.

The Indian Ports Association is also setting up decentralised STPs at 10 major ports. The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust has developed a 400 kld STP on its premises and set up an 80 kld STP nearby for wastewater management. Si­milar STPs have also been developed at ot­her ports such as the Deendayal Port Trust (800 kld) and the Chennai Port Trust (130 kld).


At present, Indian cities are visibly deficient in the quality of sewerage services they provide. There exists a massive backlog in the network as well as treatment across all cities. A large pro­portion of sewage treatment facilities in In­dia have been lying non-operational for a long ti­me owing to limited feedstock, defunct machinery, and a shortage of skilled manpower for ef­fi­cient operation and maintenance (O&M). Apart from this, there are compliance issues in industries regarding the use of treated water, especially taking into consideration the availability of fresh water at a lower price.

Further, setting up of STPs is an expensive process. Funds are not only required for building the STP and the treatment process, but also for power supply, maintenance and aug­me­­ntation of sewage collection networks. Ad­vanced wastewater treatment systems that ge­ne­rate a better quality of water are even costlier. Also, the availability of treated wastewater does not guarantee increased use as social and psychological barriers prevent its reuse, including emotional disgust associated with using treated wastewater, low awareness of treatment of wastewater and low level of trust in implementation agencies.

There is also a lack of a uniform policy for wastewater recycling and reuse in the country. Only a handful of states such as Gujarat and Ma­harashtra have formulated wastewater reuse policies. Moreover, strict enforceme­nt of these policies is missing.

In sum

Considering the rapid urbanisation and sewage generation, there is a need to bridge the existing gap in sewage treatment. Future requirements of treatment capacity must be synchronised and the focus should be on the O&M of treatment facilities so that STPs meet the desired quality of treatment. Treated sewage will also be provided to industrial clusters.

ULBs will focus on the utilisation of treated sewage for non-potable purposes like horticulture, irrigation, firefighting, industrial cooling, toilet flushing, non-contact impoundments and washing.