Sewak said that safe water was a precious commodity and people should be willing to pay a price for it.
Safe Water is a Delhi-based not-for-profit organisation which offers water management solutions. It has installed 300 water stations in states of Telangana, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
The quality of water offered though these stations confirms to the national drinking water norms, Sewak said.
The VP said that unlike the southern parts of the country, the northern states need to be sensitised about water, where, while “ability to pay” remained a challenge, “willingness to pay” was not a usual phenomenon.
Water treatment plants have been there all across the country and over 50% of them are non-functional because of no revenue, she lamented.
Safe water solutions are unavoidable, she said adding that “India occupied 120th position for its water quality among 122 nations in United Nations evaluation of global water resources.”.
Arsenic, fluoride, chromium, lead are some of the metals found in large quantities in underground water and new pollutants are now emerging, she said. Surface water has microbial contamination, she added.
Safe Water Stations
SWN runs its programmes under the umbrella of ‘iJal’ in Telangana, Maharashtra (Bhandara, Boondiya, Chandrapur and Gadchiroli districts) and Wester Uttar Pradesh.
The NGO works through a model where it engages a donor for sponsoring water station clusters. Honeywell India remains the largest donors in SWN’s programmes followed by Bharat Heavy Electrical Ltd and Oracle.
In 2010, before SWN started its programme, it commissioned John Hopkins University to do the water-mapping of the country. It also created a database – Jal Stack – on the water quality, availability of water, socio-economic status of the people and potential implementation partners.
In Maharashtra and Telangana, communities were willing to pay for safe water, though it took some effort and persuasion to make people understand the importance of safe water and the need to pay for it, she said.
Honeywell has funded 180 water stations – 150 in Telangana and 30 in Maharashtra out of the total 300, she added.
The NGO entered into agreements with the state governments for providing land for housing the stations, electricity and raw water supply.
While the life of the water treatment plants is 4-5 years, the oldest plant in Telangana is serving water for the last 10 years, the VP said.
The water stations are run through entrepreneurial mode or self-help mode, Sewak said adding that communities are taught to operate and maintain water treatment plants. Over 23% entrepreneurs running these water stations are women, she said.
Each station is giving an average 18% return on investments to the entrepreneurs or SHGs running them, Sewak said.
Every water station serves close to 3,000 people and is supplying water at Rs 5 per 20 ltr, Sangita Ghalay, CSR Head at Honeywell India said.
This 5-rupee revenue is enabling water stations to run smoothly, covering all the operational costs and also helping park some money in the emergency fund, she added.
While not all water stations are profitable, the cluster-based approach takes care of the non-profitable stations, she further said. A cluster usually has 25 water stations.
The customer activation at the time of registration of a water station is at 20-23% and the number of customers pick-up in due course, she said. So what may appear as a loss making installation initially, could catch-up later, Sewak said adding to Ghalay’s point.
Sewak said that water stations are demand-based and not supply-based. The communities have to come and ask for it and should also be ready to pay for it.
She said that SWN plans to expand operations in more states, provided it gets a donor who would be interested in funding the cluster and not standalone stations. “We get such offers but are not interested. There is a cost to run a water station and unless it is a cluster, it is not sustainable,” she said.
“The states should also be willing to work with us and give necessary approvals. They should also be willing to intervene through viability gap funding in cases where communities are unable to pay for water. We have shortlisted various states,” she added.
SWN is also currently working with the government of Karnataka to help them build and maintain their water stations.
The NGO is also assisting governments at states and centre in policy making through its advocacy programmes.
SWN has also done a study for the government’s flagship programme Nal Sei Jal and given its recommendations to the Jal Shakti Ministry, Sewak said. The scheme needs Rs 5 lakh crore investments, she added. Under the Nal Sei Jal programme, piped water will be provided to every household by 2024.
The NGO has completed water assessment of four cities viz Vishakhapatnam, Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai and has given its recommendations on setting up water ATMs.
Sewak said that SWN water stations were operating at less than 2% downtime, a phenomenon unique in the country.
Ghalay attributed this to a rigorous monitoring schedule where every tiny bit of data including mapping quantity of water coming in and out of water stations, TDS, voltage fluctuation, pressure on the membrane, is collected.
The IOT-enabled stations are monitored 24X7 and data is collected every 15 minutes and sent to remote servers to be mined.
The communities are also taught how to operate and maintain these water stations.
Among other initiatives, SWN has been working on rain water harvesting programme in Rajasthan’s Churu district, helping communities to build their own underground concrete tanks in their homes. The programme has covered six blocks building 1,025 such tanks.
The tanks with six layers of filtration are connected to a hand pumps to fetch water for drinking and other domestic purposes. Sewak said that having a water security has also motivated people to build toilets in their homes.
SWN is also working on reject water management utilisation, she added.