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Managing director, INDO Region, of Grundfos Pumps India says Mumbai and its Mayor should start thinking of an alternative as building a new city now will take 30 years.

Grundfos, the world’s largest pump manufacturer selling more than 16 million pump units annually, possibly knows better how to manage water at a time when most part of the world is facing a water crisis. The Hindu spoke to N.K. Ranganath, managing director, INDO Region, Grundfos Pumps India, on how serious the problem is in India and the way out.


How serious is the water crisis in India?

From an overall helicopter point of view, there is no crisis. Because our water precipitation in India is about 4000 billion cubic metres, of which half evaporates and gets lost. So we have 1,800 billion cubic metres for use. Our potential to use is approximately 1,200 billion cubic metres, so there is enough water for most purposes. But the moment you come down from a helicopter point of view to specific areas, then some States are in deep distress. It is a management problem. While 25% is managed well, 75% is not managed properly. That has created these issues. There are certain water stress areas. As per a norm, less than 1,700 cubic metres per person is considered water stress. And less than 1,100 cubic metres is water scarce. If you look at that, we are less than 1, 700. And probably we will be less than 1,100 cubic metres by 2030 or so if we do not do anything about it. Whenever you have a ratio like this, you have a numerator and a denominator. The numerator is the quantum of water that is neither increased nor reduced. On the other hand, precipitation has increased over the of years, but it comes at one time in heavy quantity and flows out. The denominator has increased phenomenally. In 1950, there was much more water, but less population. In 2020, our population has increased to over 1.3 billion. So the per capita has to come down. It is up to us to think through and manage these sources of water properly. If we can manage well even now, there will be enough water for all purposes.


How can we manage water?

India should have a 50 years’ road map irrespective of which government and political party remains in power. For now, you need a short-term approach because there is a crisis. So you need to reduce, reuse and recycle every day. Multiple use of water should be made compulsory. A timeline should be should be set to build infrastructure. All along the coasts you can have desalination plants. It is expensive to build, but cheap in terms of cubic metres of water. There has to be compliance. Discharge of raw sewage into lakes and rivers must stop. In case of effluents, where there is zero discharge and people are drilling bore holes and letting the effluents into the earth, it has to be handled firmly because it is going to destroy mother earth. Compliance is poor due to corruption. The ownership and accountability has to come from people. In the medium term, you have to restore water bodies and overflowing channels. All of them have been occupied and used as landfills. Destruction of wetlands must stop in urban and rural areas. You must plan check dams to store running water. Use technology to understand from where water is coming, where it is flowing and where it is staying. In the long term, canals should be built. Since India has to grow more food, there will be more demand of water for agriculture. Today, 85% of water is used by agriculture, while only 8% to 9% is used for drinking. So if you don’t focus on agriculture, improve cropping patterns and use micro drip irrigation, the country will be in problem.


How can this be handled?

It is a politically sensitive thing. So farmers are taking advantage of that. If you are writing off their loans, then takeover their assets just like it is done for corporate debtors. Farmers should be told what crop they should grow and how much water they can use. The government must promote drip irrigation. The farmers must know how much water they are using and they should be charged for water, maybe 50 paise for 1,000 litres, but one has to charge. Around 10% saving in water used for agriculture is huge. It is enough for the entire population of India. We need to act as citizens first and not wait for the government.


Which States in India are in the danger zone?

NITI Aayog has named 21 cities. By 2050, Mumbai and Chennai will be under water on account of global warming. What are we doing towards preventing that? 2050 is not far away in terms of building infrastructure.


What can be done about this?

I don’t see any thought by the government. But Mumbai and its Mayor should start thinking about an alternative. If you start building a new city now, it will take 30 years. Since it is bound to happen, people should be moved to higher planes. There is enough land available elsewhere. Since Jakarta is sinking, they are looking at moving out. One must move the capital first. When the government moves and all the government buildings move, then people will move.


Which countries have excelled in water management?

Portugal has done an amazing job. Twenty years ago, their rivers were polluted and one could not drink water from the tap as sewage was going into it. Today, they have the cleanest water, cleanest river. Water was free in the past. Now everybody pays for it. Since they are self-sufficient in terms of money, they keep these plants going and have built several waste water treatment plants and are doing well. Portugal is a small nation, but we can learn from them. Most developed countries have no problem. In Philippines, parts of Manila have done well.


How can floods caused by extended and excessive monsoons be managed?

Today we are in the digital age. There is enough data to predict what will happen. So when you know that this is going to happen you have almost a year to the next rainy season. What are we doing in that direction? It is again a question of management. Starting to act at the time of the rains has to stop. We should act when there is no rain, plan in advance.


What do you think about the Prime Minister’s ₹3.5 lakh crore investment to provide water to 50% of homes?

The intention is good. He has done that for Swachh Bharat. It is tough. But if they achieve 50% of the target it would be a great achievement. My only worry is that when you put a tap it should find the water. Also what to do with waste water requires holistic thinking. It should be handed to the right people than to the lowest bidders.


What is the way forward?

Approach the issue of water in a long term and holistic manner. There has to be one owner of water, one ministry. The local authorities must start charging for water, which is most important. You have to start looking at compliance and what the effluents are. The dirtier the water, the more the penalty. It needs a huge political will.