Water in India: Modi’s Reforms and Opportunities for Investment

India’s water sector faces major challenges as the country’s population continues to grow at an exponential rate, simultaneously pushing up both pollution levels and demand for clean water.

OnFrontiers spoke with Head of Civil Engineering at Manipal University in Jaipur, Anil Dutt Vyas, about the problems facing India’s water sector. Vyas is a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) specialist with 15+ years of experience consulting on water and sanitation management initiatives for UNICEF, USAID/OFDA, ICF International and the Asian Development Bank.

Clean water shortages

Vyas explains that a lack of opportunity in rural areas has triggered mass migration to urban centers across the country, resulting in rising pollution levels and competition for resources. The country’s urban poor are most severely affected, Vyas says, residing in slums that lack legal connections to water systems, inhabitants are forced to get water from unsafe, unreliable sources.

To compound the problem, the current drought in India has put an added strain on an already inadequate system. This year’s monsoon season, which will begin in June, will be crucial.

But even if this year’s rainfall is abundant, Vyas explains, issues related to system management persist. Practices for rainwater collection – India’s primary source for clean water – are in need of better management and regulation. The country’s systems for collection, storage and purification are presently inadequate.

The process for moving water from groundwater recharging systems to utilities is wrought with issues including leakages and illegal connections. Such losses have amounted to a failure to supply the majority of the Indian population with access to the 135 litres per capita per day prescribed by the government of India as the minimum amount required for survival.

Opportunities for improvement

Despite current challenges, Vyas remains optimistic about the outlook for overall systemic improvement within the next 5-10 years. Vyas says India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi has demonstrated a commitment to addressing issues inherent in the country’s water sector through budget reallocations that have increased resources available to the water sector by 168%.

Opportunities for private sector operators exist, but the problem of maintenance in the long term arises. If you build a reservoir, explains Vyas, communities cannot maintain it themselves. Instead, they will rely on the government to do so.

Multilateral agencies working to address water treatment and distribution problems are also present in the industry. But Vyas notes that these types of interventions tend to operate on a larger scale, serving big towns with populations of 5-10 million. Smaller communities are thus overlooked.

The substantial room for improvement to India’s water utility translates into vast opportunity for public and private actors alike, as well as for collaboration between the two.

About the OnFrontiers Expert consulted for this article:

 Anil Dutt Vyas is Head of Civil Engineering at Manipal University in Jaipur. Prior to this he served a WASH specialist and WASH consultant for UNICEF , USAID, and the International Medical Corps, respectively. To speak with Anil or similar experts, contact us at hello@onfroniers.com.

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