On the likely possible development agenda of the new government

May 17, 2014


Development with Gujarati characteristics .

It is a comprehensive win for a model of development now likely to replicate itself in many other states all across India. What could be some of the characteristics of this development strategy ? Clearly it will be an infrastructure led model.

Electricity and the power sector: This is one sector where the Gujarat model is striking and clearly ready for a roll out. Segregating the rural agriculture sector from habitations, ensuring 24 hours supply to homes and then ensuring 8 hours of reliable and robust power to the agriculture sector will not only help farmers but also boost the growth in this area substantially. Urban power supply without any power cut is something almost every household and industry looks forward to. Alternative energy such as solar and wind energy should also get a substantial boost.

Water:  While river inter-linking may have been the rhetoric it is likely that the focus would be back on major irrigation and groundwater. While water for irrigation should get a ramping up in terms of outlay and investments, greater focus will be on increasing efficiency of delivery through canal lining, improved governance et al. Also like the massive Saurashtra model of water harvesting, using soil and water conservation measures at large scale in a partnership with communities will help the groundwater sustainability and availability. India’s dependence on groundwater cannot be overemphasized and this sector will see much attention in the coming years.

In urban areas the Surat model of water and sanitation with an overall goal of 24/7 water supply and full underground sewerage system with waste-water treatment and recycling will roll out all across Indian cities. Rural sanitation should get a solid boost with it having the personal attention of the Prime Minister.

Transport: The Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) of Ahmedabad is a model for the rest of the country. For sure mass transportation including metro rail and BRTS will to overcome the gridlock in urban India will be the direction. Atal Behari Vajpayee ‘s National Highway Grid and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana , both hugely successful initiatives, should see increased focus for finance. It is through this investment that every village in India can be touched and linked to the overall development of the nation.

Housing: This will be a tough sector to deal with and it is not clear how the path ahead lies because there is no Gujarat model to follow here. However it is clear that the private sector will play a much more important role than previously and land reforms in urban areas will take priority.

The policy imperative will demand that a National Energy Policy, a National Water Policy within which an Urban Water and Sanitation Policy and a Groundwater Policy is included and a National Transportation Policy, including roads and railways, amongst many others be articulated to indicate the direction in which the government will move in the coming years.


On the sludge management and reuse potential in Bangalore

May 12, 2014

One of the many critical factors affecting productivity in Indian soils is the absence of nutrients such as Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphates. Even Carbon is in short supply as well as micro-nutrients such as Zinc and Boron.  AA substantial part of our artificial fertilizers is imported and we run up quite a huge bill. Fertilizer prices too are shooting up leading to an imbalance in their application. It has been reported for example that Urea which is relatively cheaper is over applied on soils causing more harm than good.

Cut to urban cities. Sewage treatment plants are coming up in large numbers. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board –the utility responsible for sanitation and sewage, will eventually be setting up 25 sewage treatment plants treating nearly 1100 Million Litres Per day of sewage. These plants will mostly be secondary and tertiary treatment plants. Each million litre of sewage generates nearly a Tonne of sludge. Imagine 1100 Tonnes of sludge will be generated in the city of Bangalore alone. This is 120 truckloads of sludge.

There are smaller sewage treatment plants dotting the landscape in apartments and layouts too. These too generate smaller quantities of sludge. Overall this represents a management challenge of large proportions.

Research:  Currently at the GKVK-University of Agricultural Sciences – research work is going on to understand the nutrient value of this sludge. A Ph D student is pursuing her Doctorate and is experimenting on field trials using the sludge as manure. The initial test results show very good amounts of Potassium and Phosphates in the sludge.



Separately sludge is also being picked up from Ecosan toilets. These are source separating composting toilets which segregate urine and solids. The solids are covered with ash after every use and desiccated before application as a fertilizer on soils. Farmers of Kamasamudram and H.D.Kote have such toilets in their homes and are very happy with the fertilizer they get. In fact this compost is priced at Rs 10 a kg.


Sludge sells for upto Rs 10 a kg.

Similarly the landscape of rural India is dotted with pit toilets, more than 130 million of them at the last count. These too accumulate solid sludge and need to be emptied using mechanical systems. They are also found to be rich in Phosphates and Potassium.

All these various forms of sludge will be taken, tested applied on fields and crop productivity tested under expert supervision.

When research and application come together in a spirit of cooperation, it is possible to find solutions for India’s vast water, food and sanitation problems. At the base, this is a nutrient cycle at play. How we scientifically understand and manage it will show us the path to solutions. If every gram of sludge generated in our Sewage Treatment Plants become useful as manure it will partially solve India’s fertilizer needs and eliminate pollution. It will also increase productivity and richness of our soils as well as enhance the livelihood opportunities of farmers.

Recognizing and converting waste to a resource will help thousand of apartments and layouts, small and medium towns and even metropolis to manage their sewage efficiently for reuse and recycling. This would be water wisdom.


Towards a water sensitive city

April 23, 2014


The imagination of water in a city should not be limited to its delivery and withdrawal in pipes alone. A good water management plan would mean and include the many roles of water such as the spiritual, the cultural, the ecological and the recreational in addition to the functional..

In the hierarchy of the development of water infrastructure in a city there is first the arrival of piped water supply. Drainage and sewerage follow after some time.  The city then starts to understand and manage its surface water like lakes, rivers and canals. Attention then usually shifts to groundwater management. If all this is done  and fountains dot the landscape , where rivers and lakes become clean and spots of recreation and where all waste-water streams are managed the city starts educating its citizens especially its young ones on water and spreading water literacy. This city can be said to have become water sensitive. Singapore comes to mind as one such city. Stockholm and Oslo also manage their waters accordingly and celebrate it. Seoul is getting there or nearly there. We in India are on the painful ladder and it will take time but the vision has to stay firm. Of course in a water sensitive city all citizens will have equal access to the resource and there will be no deprivation and appropriation of the commons.

In Coimbatore through a citizen government partnership the Big Tank the Ukkadam was de-silted and made ready to receive rainwater which it has collected in plenty. In Dindigul de-silting has begun of the old tank. In Karnataka State ,  Tiptur has refurbished and improved a large tank so have the towns of Sira and Tumkur.

In Bangalore the Bangalore Development Authority has invested over Rs 110 crores in improving over 14 tanks. Of these tanks Jakkur in the Northern part of the city seems to offer a potential comprehensive role of creating a water ecosystem which fits the role of what a water body can do in a city – as they say to function as its kidney.


The vast water spread of Jakkur Tank

The tank itself was a beautiful irrigation tank with a command area which grew paddy. As the city has caught up the role of the tank has now changed. There is a wetland on the upstream end which receives water from a waste-water treatment plant. The wetland further purifies the waste-water . The tank itself with a water spread of 53 Hectares is full and harbours lots of fish. Birds nest and a virtual array of them can be seen during the year.


Treated Waste-water comes in to a wetland

The tank has recharged groundwater in the surrounding areas and the some of the remaining water heritage of the city – the traditional wells- are full to the brim. Boys learn to swim in one of them. Another well is used for large scale irrigation of coconut and banana plants. The tank has a place for immersion of Ganesha idols in one place. Storm-water inlets to bring in rain when it occurs have well designed silt traps to allow only water to come in and not debris and solid waste.


Full wells – thanks to a recharged aquifer

The tank ecosystem fulfills many a function, from the ecological, to the cultural and spiritual, from the educational to that of recharge and many more.

This is truly a microcosm of what is called Integrated Urban water management in practice. Here we see the transformation of waste-water through a physical process of treatment followed by a biological process to drinking water.


Fish feeds the city with proteins and provides livelihood to fishermen

Water in a city is much beyond what flows in pipes. If designed and managed well it can enhance and provide for the needs of nature and man in myriad forms. The Jakkur Lake should be managed well so that it becomes a living lab for our citizens to see and learn how urban waters can be managed. This experiment can then be repeated in most other tanks of the city and also in other cities. Bangalore has been a pioneer in many ways to urban water management. Can it take a lead in this one too? In that would lie water wisdom.


Dealing with defunct borewells

April 20, 2014


It mostly takes a tragedy for us to act as a society. It is possible that India has about 30 million bore-wells, the worlds largest number. The drilling of bore-wells is a flourishing industry where greater and greater depths are recorded but more significantly from a safety and security point of you the diameter of drilling is increasing. From once what was an innocuous 4 inches of diameter, boreholes now are typically 4 ½, 6 ½ and even 10 inches in diameter.

With a complex hard rock structure in the Deccan Plateau and a depleting water table many bore-wells fail to strike water. Some go defunct when the water is extracted and the level falls below the bore-wells. These bore-wells have to be treated with great care else they can become the spots for accidents. Young children falling in, is a serious cause for concern and action.

Recharge: No defunct bore-well should be left unmarked. A bore-well which yielded water and is now dry can become a great source for recharging the aquifer. A clean and sufficient catchment for run-off is a must. The water is then lead to the Borewell around which 3 feet to 5 feet diameter recharge well is dug. The well is lined with concrete rings and can be filled with filter materials or even left without it. Holes are then drilled in the casing of the bore-well and wrapped with a mesh to prevent grit from falling inside. Rainwater and storm-water is directed to the recharge well, filtered and allowed to flow into the casing to recharge the groundwater.

Making a recharge well around a defunct bore-well. Safety should be a concern.


Rooftop rainwater can also be led into these defunct borewells again after making sure that the rooftop is clean and ensuring filtration before the water is led in to the Borewell.

Care should be ensured that no polluted water gets in. Care should also be taken to ensure that the electric connections are dis-connected and also that the cover on the recharge well is solid, heavy and not likely to cave in.

Failed borewells: Similarly, in the case of a failed Borewell the tendency is to recover and salvage the casing pipe inserted into the drilled hole. At this instance it should be mandatory to fill up the hole with earth so that there is no chance of an accident. Responsibility is jointly that of the owner of the land where the Borewell is being drilled and that of the drilling operator. A code of procedure should be followed to ensure safety at all times.

Borewells are the lifeline of India , providing water for irrigation, industries and domestic use. Making safety a top priority in the drilling and managing of live and dead borewells is a prime necessity of the times. Developing safety protocols and ensuring that they are applied is a step towards water wisdom.


Water tariff and free water

January 11, 2014

The price in question


God gave us water so it should be free. Yes but he forgot the pipes. – Quote

The pricing of water in urban areas has firmly entered the political decision making space with the Delhi announcement of 666 litres per connection per day free. Here is a good look at what goes into decision making and how a solution is arrived at.

Cities get water from quite huge distances. Bangalore for example gets its water from the river Cauvery 95 kilometres away and about 300 metre below the city.  Typically there are three components to the investment requirement for water. First is the capital requirement to collect, treats, pump, store, distribute and measure through meters the water supplied to all the myriad connections. Then collect, convey and treat the consumed water which now emerges as wastewater. This is the Capital cost of the system.

Then there is the electricity bill to paid for pumping the water and treating the wastewater, the chemicals required in cleaning the water and wastewater, the salaries of the employees and meter readers , the routine repairs that are needed etc. This is the Operations and Maintenance Cost.

Finally there is a sinking fund to be collected to replace the entire infrastructure when the life of the equipment is over.

As a rough idea in Bangalore it cost Rs 80 for a kilo-litre of water to be produced and delivered to the consumer. The cost in Delhi is reported to be about Rs 28 a kilo-litre.

These three components make up the investments for water supply and waste water collection. There are three ways this can be funded, by the tax payer, by the consumer or by grants from foreign agencies.

Remember the true cost of water is when it is returned back to nature at a quality decided as appropriate not to cause pollution. The ecological cost would also include the preservation and management of the lakes and rivers and their catchments to continue to supply the water as well as the treatment plants needed to treat the sewage to appropriate standards.

Consumer: For the consumer there is usually a connection cost for water supply and sewerage and in a well functioning system a monthly bill based on the volumetric consumption as reported by the meter. In many cases if metering is not there is a flat charge or something linked to property tax.

Now if free water is given to the consumer of domestic connections the only way to recover the cost would be from two other categories of consumers the non-domestic consumers such as hotels and restaurants and from the industrial sector. However if the tariff for these sections go up too high there is a resource substitution with industries shifting to ground water or to private water supply.

Tariff: While it is a fact that no human being should be deprived of water due to the cost of it, it is also a fact that water is an economic good and requires monies to supply. A good via media would appear to be universal connections given to all families and houses in cities, a free 50 litres of water per person per day as prescribed by WHO guidelines and then a reasonable tariff to recover costs. A fact to be remembered is that about 50 % of piped water in a city goes as non revenue water, either physically leaking from the system or simply not billed or collected. It would be important for city utilities to bring this number to less than 20 %.

Way forward: It would be ideal for cities to put the data in public domain and go inform large scale consultations with its citizens on how to arrive at a tariff. With responsible fiscal behaviour will come sustainability and with universal connections will come equity. Sources such as groundwater accessed through hand-pumps can easily be made free if the aquifers are well maintained and are not polluted and do not go too deep.

Innovative dialogue is the way forward and this is the right time for urban India to enter into the dialogue and enter into a compact with its political parties for good water governance.


The water pricing and tariff in question

January 1, 2014

Much debate has been ignited by the recent decision of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi to give 20,000 litres of water per month per connection free. Here is how water pricing can be seen and choice of water prices determined

First some beliefs

1. We all have to pay for good quality piped water. Directly as a consumer, indirectly as a tax payer or even more indirectly as inflation. It is best to pay as a consumer and keep the utility supplying water fiscally buoyant so as to be able to extend services and keep up the quality of the infrastructure.

2. Eventually both environmental externalities and social externalities will need to be factored in. On the environmental side the continuous availability of good quality water will demand investment in catchments and rivers and groundwater and rainwater. Negative externalities will need to be costed and the treatment cost of waste-water included in the price of water.  On the social front , water is a community property resource and its increased availability upto a point improves health and economic outcomes of communities . This will result in increased productivity , less expenses on medicines and especially a better future for children . However a combination of good water supply , access to safe sanitation and good hygiene behaviour should be encouraged altogether.

Now to the idea of pricing …

Let us assume 100 kilo-litres of water coming in to a city. The cost of the water will include the Capital cost amortized over the life of the project , the Operations and Maintenance cost for running the entire system and a sinking fund to replace the equipment at the end of its life.  For a moment let us assume that this cost of water production is Rs 10 per kilo-litre ( a 1000 litres) Now if a utility is to run as a no profit no loss entity it has to recover the cost from its consumer. However unfortunately there is a lot of loss in the system. Some water leaks out of pipes. Some water gets to consumers who do not pay or are not required to pay. Figures can reach 50 % but let us assume an efficient institution and a figure of 20 %.

Now let us do the Maths

Cost incurred to get and distribute water to the city 100 KL x Rs 10 per KL = Rs 1000

Cost to be recovered from 80 KL (since 20 KL is lost )  = Rs 1000 /80 = Rs 12.50 Kl

Typically consumers in a city are divided into three broad categories of users

Domestic      Non domestic (commercial)  and  Industrial. Typically the later two categories can afford to pay more for water. Let us assume an ideal distribution of the remaining 80 KL of water as follows

Domestic     Non domestic   Industrial               Loss               Total

KL                         KL                    KL                         KL                    KL

52                      16                           12                  20                     100

Now if we charge double the tariff for non domestic consumers (such as hotels ,restaurants, pvt establishments etc) i.e Rs 25 a kilo-litre and four times for Industrial consumers i.e. Rs 50 a kilo-litre we will have the following tariff

Total cost to be recovered  –     1000 Rs

From Non-domestic –   16 x 25 = 400

From industrial =            12 x 50 = 600

Total cost recovered                  Rs  1000

Free water is then possible for the domestic sector without   the institution incurring any loss.

Of course there are caveats.

  1. The 52 Kl coming in to the city should be enough for all the population of the city. At a standard of 140 lpcd , this 52 KL can service a population of 52000/ 140 = 371 people.  For 20 million people like Delhi to have water at 140 lpcd the city will need 20 million x 140 x 100/52 = 5385 million litres a day. It is better to drive consumption down to an efficient 100 lpcd , in which case the requirement would be 20 million x 100 x 100 / 52 = 3847 million litres per day.
  2. Source substitution will occur if prices go up. Both the non-domestic and especially the industrial sector will go for groundwater or private water tanker if that is cheaper than the tariff imposed by the cross subsidization. Hence groundwater and tanker water will need to be regulated and charged at the same price as piped water.
  3. Metering both bulk and retail will be a must. All connections must be individual and all connections must be metered.
  4. If water is free for the domestic sector there will be no incentive to conserve it. Pricing is a must for this sector too. People are not hindered by the price of piped water but by the absence of connections and the initial connection cost. This must be universalized and made free.
  5. It is better to make the WHO guideline of 50 litres per capita per day which is the basic minimum for health and hygiene, free..i.e.50 x 5x 30= 7500 litres per month free. Anything above must be charged at a minimum price of say Rs 4 a KL . Anything above 135 lpcd should be charged at non-domestic tariff.
  6. Special teams will need to be created and dialogues will be necessary to increase the connections and consumption for non-domestic and industrial use.
  7. To get to a 20 % leakage figure will be no easy task but all new pipelines and connections must be designed for 24/7 water.
  8. Wastewater will need to be collected and reused/recycled as non potable water or as ecological flows through wetlands into rivers.

So here then is the final tariff structure

Domestic                 Non domestic                Industrial

Litres                    Rs                               Rs                                    Rs

Slab   0 -7500            Free                      25                             50

7500- 15000         4                                  25                              50

>15000                25                                25                                50


Build the institution Bangalore – the water is there

December 18, 2013

Water – the Bangalore story

It is a strange place to have placed four towers and have started a city but perhaps Magadi Kempegowda was not thinking of water when he had his grand dream. The city now has outgrown those four towers and the one small stream which was the only part of a running water landscape is now desecrated beyond measure and called the Vishabhavati (the poison river) from the original Vrishbhavati (that which originates from the mouth of a bull) .

As early as the 1850’s the British were complaining about the water and sanitation systems. It also did not help matters that sewage was being left into the very source from where water was being drawn. Both Ulsoor and Dharmambudhi Lake being the source and the sink.

In a pioneering effort of its kind, most probably aided by the fact that this was city not near a perennial water source and there was always a sense of shortage, the city started to search for water from far. Hessarghatta on the Arkavathy reservoir 24 km away was first developed as a storage dam. Steam engines were used to pump water into the city and when electricity came that then replaced the steam engines. In each case Bangalore was a pioneer in the use of steam and electricity to pump water to itself. Hessarghatta was found short to slake the cities thirst and Thippagondanahally on the junction of the Kumudvathi and Arkavathy came into being as a new reservoir in addition to the Arkavathy in the mid 30’s. The city continued to grow and in the 1970’s the Cauvery was tapped at Torekadinahalli, pumped to a distance of 95 kilometres and 300 metres high to quench the city’s thirst. This was a remarkable engineering feat by a remarkable institution the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board- BWSSB – the first exclusive city level water and sanitation utility created in India. Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 and phases 1 and 2 of stage 4 have kicked in and one of the costliest water in Asia comes after being pumped in three stages into the city. Alas the limit to drawal also has been reached and there is no more water for the city unless there is a redrawing of the water requirement between the irrigation and the urban sector in the Cauvery basin part of Karnataka.

In the meantime the city found out an uncomfortable truth, not all of it was in the Cauvery basin. In fact 2/3rds of it was outside the basin and in a river called the Dakshina Pinakini or the Ponnaiyar so that part was not entitled to water from the Cauvery basin or so said the tribunal.

In true government style a committee was formed to find out how the growing needs of the economic and domestic demand of the city could be met. Proposals include getting water from the Hemavathi, the Sharavathy as well as the west flowing rivers. These of course are huge projects involving lots of money and energy, something which should get the construction lobby salivating.

In the meantime there are practical proposals such as rooftop rainwater harvesting, the rejuvenation of the remaining lakes of the city, the recharging and the management of the groundwater in the city and most importantly the treatment and reuse of waste-water which show tremendous opportunities.

While the city gets 1400 million litres of piped water supply, the equivalent of 3000 million litres per day falls as rain on it. The total volume of wastewater available for reuse is 1100 million litres and the amount of groundwater that can be drawn sustainably is close to 600 million litres per day provided it is adequately recharged.

Do the math then

Average demand 200 Litres per capita per day 

Total; available water 

From Cauvery   1400 million litres per day

From groundwater 600 million litres per day

From recycled waste-water 1100 million litres per day

From rainwater 600 million litres per day ( 20 % rain harvested)

Total  3700 million litres per day

Good enough for a population of 18.50 million

…and if we get demand efficiency right and demand down to 100 litres per dapita per day

37 million people of Bangalore can be served ( current population 9 million)


Unfortunately the institution in charge of water supply is not completely geared to undertake a water management approach. It has no skill set for example in lake management or in hydro-geology.

If institutional capacities are built up, if there is a strong vision and an accountable authority created Bangalore in its pioneering way can overcome its water shortage problems. Else it will be forever condemned to become dependent on a tanker economy. The choice is ours and the time is now. 


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