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“Willingness backed by policy is key to sustainable water management”

In conversation with Sustainability Outlook, Mr. N. K. Ranganath, MD & CEO at Grundfos, shares his thoughts on the trends, outlook and challenges for water treatment sector in India.

How do you think the landscape in India has evolved over the last couple of years as far as water is concerned?

I would say that there hasn’t been any monumental change over the last few years but it is likely to accelerate now and be much more than it has been over the last couple of years. Water is becoming an issue where there is more awareness amongst the general public. Over the last few years I have seen that people are more particular about the problem of water scarcity and water in general unlike sanitation, etc. As for the industries, they always have a business case, either because of lack of access to water or lack of clean water and obviously because of the regulations. So, companies which are aware or companies which are professional are doing their bit in reducing the water consumption, treating their effluent, etc. thus reducing their specific water consumption which I have seen across many industries. However there are a few industries and managements which are still using the obsolete methods and hence are inefficient. One issue that I see dampening this development is the way compliance is looked at by the regulators. There is more corruption in especially letting off people who are not following the norms than focusing on the good practices undertaken by the others. Until and unless the concept of polluters pay depending on the level of pollution comes up, the business case would slowly disappear. The other thing that is holding back is the general public; the people lack the awareness that they should preferably buy a green product even if it is a little more expensive over a product whose manufacturer has no regard for the environment. Hence, this kind of awareness needs to be built and perhaps it will take a long time but in a nutshell the market for water treatment technology is blooming.

What are some of the key challenges hampering this sector?

Low price of water definitely is a challenge. We do not even like paying for pumping the water. Unfortunately, pricing of water is far more political than pricing of power. Bringing in the concept of paying for what you use is a very important concept and I don’t see this happening in the next couple of years. Ownership of water is also a problem. The fact is that water

There is enough water in India if used well - it is more about how we use and manage it. 

flows from one place to another and you can’t contain it in one place has caused many inter and intra state conflicts. So if the central government looks into water, whether it is from the source, point of use or point of recycle, whether for the industry or agriculture, it would perhaps have better management and a holistic view of how probably one could look at managing and conserving water. There is enough water in India if used well - it is more about how we use and manage it. One major challenge that I see is the government being an auditor or more like a policeman rather than a facilitator which is causing red-tapism in the country. There are so many central ministries leave alone the fact that water is a state subject. This certainly hampers its management especially when you come down to the state level and creates lack of coordination and management. Therefore, the best way to do it would be either that all the water bodies come under the water authority or if there could be a kind of river basin based management if necessary. If there is a river basin based management system based on which state the river flows into, then there would only be one owner of the river so there would be no water dispute and there would hence be no need to go the court to resolve it.

What is the key driver for sustainable water management?

Nothing is stable, if it is not supported on three legs of policy, commitment & responsibility and the third leg of general awareness of the society. Laws are made for the people who break laws. Unfortunately, laws are made so complicated that one can’t really comply with them and hence corruption creeps in. I would say that the major

It’s more about the willingness backed by the policy; the right outlook is what is actually more necessary than anything else.

driver is the outlook one has. If one has the right outlook and attitude and are aware and self-driven then you anyway comply and there is always the provision for policy if you don’t. Many companies are taking a lot of steps to ensure that their water is clean. Hence it’s more about the willingness backed by the policy. The right outlook is what is actually more necessary than anything else. 

As Grundfos, what are the key opportunities in the water sector in short term and mid-term in India?

Market opportunities exist both in areas where there is water and where there isn’t, the way we look at it is important; one should have a holistic approach. We are aware that the demand for pumps will never fade away because it’s like the heart; if it stops then everything else stops. Having said that, what we can do to conserve water and to conserve energy is what is important and that’s the way we are going. Can we have intelligent technologies which can tell as to how much you should use - that is where we see opportunity. We see opportunities in most segments including the water treatment segment. We are aware that clean drinking water should be available at the right price. Out of 1 billion people, around 5 to 6 million people do not have access to clean drinking water therefore we are also looking at options to provide clean drinking water to the people. We make sure that what we sell leaves a positive impact on the people, society and environment. We also provide to the industries and they value our products because we constantly tell them how to save power, as saving on power has twin benefits firstly, it reduces your input costs and also helps in drastically reducing the impact on environment. How we meet the needs, whether we do it in a responsible manner or not is the question we always ask ourselves. 

What are the key levers that would help realize these opportunities?

Firstly, I would bring water under one authority who would be the regulator. I would not use fancy technology, we have had very old methods like check dams, etc. to control flood water, which are fairly Factoring in the cost of health and lack of food in the cost of water would actually aptly signify how underpriced this resource is in our country well planned and efficient. There would be few tracks that I would focus on - one being immediate remediation of the polluted water, second, changing cropping patterns to ensure reduced usage of water because water use by the agriculture is by far the most. India’s agricultural productivity is lesser than many other countries though it uses more water. There are a lot of opportunities in a country like India, because we are at present in a low state and even a small step would multiply into great opportunities.

What is your outlook for India?

Water has great impact on health and food. Somehow we tend to ignore the cost of lack of food and ill health. Factoring in the cost of health and lack of food in the cost of water would 

Factoring in the cost of health and lack of food in the cost of water would actually aptly signify how underpriced this resource is in our country.

actually aptly signify how underpriced this resource is in our country. We do not need to do much, all that is required is to be aware and improve every day a little bit more than the last day. It not only puts an onus on us but also industry, politicians and everyone else to ensure that we do different things but they all are in the same direction and aligned with each other.

Author: sustainabilityoutlook