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BW Businessworld

Elixir Of Opportunity

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In 1951, the average Indian could count on 5,177 cubic metres of water per year. By 2001, the availability per person annually had dropped to 1,816 cubic metres. Currently, it is pegged at 1,545 cubic metres and dropping fast.

Some of the blame for the reduced availability of water can be attributed to the rise in population. We have gone from being a country of less than 400 million people in 1951 to over 1.2 billion today. But that is not the only reason. Pollution, leakage, dropping water tables, among other factors, play a big role in the reduced per capita availability.

The reduction in overall availability of water is just one problem. The bigger problem is that of potable water — water that is fit to drink. Pollution of rivers and other water sources has ensured that potable water is fast becoming a nightmare for urban planners from Delhi to Chennai and from Kolkata to Mumbai.

While the water crisis does not make it to the front pages of newspapers the way power shortage does, it is simmering below the surface in all cities. During summers, water scarcity sparks protests in different parts of the country. Despite that, it has simply not attracted the kind of attention that other infrastructural problems have.

Of course, what is a problem for one person is often an opportunity for another. Water shortage and the problem of clean drinking water is giving rise to rapidly growing and profitable businesses. There is an opportunity at every level of the water ecosystem and the income graph.

If makers of water purifiers and domestic reverse osmosis (RO) systems are targeting the rich and middle-class homes, the packaged water business has already become a multi-billion dollar business by focusing on travellers.

There are others who are trying their hand at creating sustainable businesses by supplying potable water to the urban and rural poor. There are also those who believe that the urban water market has become extremely competitive but there is unlimited potential in semi-urban and rural areas. Unlike packaged water manufacturers, they depend on big, localised water treatment plants which then supply water via ATMs.

And then there are those who have joined hands with municipal corporations to take over and revamp old water supply systems in cities — to improve supply to households.

The Rs 9,000-crore business of packaged water has been written about for many years now. The stories in our special report on the water business focus on policy issues, water ATMs and private-public partnerships for improving city water supplies.

The last two are as yet nascent businesses and essentially experiments on the ground. But, by any reckoning, they will become the big water opportunities of tomorrow. 

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 28-07-2014)