Recent developments in water-stressed states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu culminating in the boycott of beverages of multinational companies like Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc., have led to disturbing conditions. These companies are accused of siphoning off groundwater and selling products tainted with pesticides. The latest action means drinks from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which together have a 96 percent hold on India’s $4.9 billion soda market, will be kept off the shelves of more than one million shops.
Both the soft drink majors, Pepsi and Coca-Cola, had argued that the quantum of water they consume is minuscule when compared to the host of companies in the region, and they claim they are being unjustifiably targeted, an argument that has been accepted even by the Madras High Court; nevertheless, many analysts opine that these companies have become scapegoats for a water crisis that’s got mired in politics and patriotism. However, these developments have also given rise to many issues like the need for a concrete water policy for the industrial sector, emphasis on treatment of the industrial wastewater for recycling for reuse etc.
The industrial sector in India has emerged as the second highest consumer of water after agriculture, and the major sources of water for the industrial sector are groundwater and surface water. Groundwater has emerged as an important source to meet the water requirements of industries, especially in the wake of the fast pace of pollution of surface water resources. However, the choice of source of water depends on the availability of sufficient and regular supply of water, and the cost of water from the source.
In the wake of industrial development gathering momentum, the demand for industrial water is mounting. Broad estimates show that the industrial sector consumes an average of six percent of freshwater per annum – while the annual growth in the chemical industry and construction has been around nine percent, it has been around six percent in textile and food since the 1990s and five percent in paper and paper products industry – this demand is likely to surge in view of the likely expansion of the industrial base in the country.
There are conflicting estimates of water consumption by the industrial sector in India. According to the Union Ministry of Water Resources, the industrial sector accounted for about six percent of the total freshwater abstraction at the beginning of this century, and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) reports that the figure may be eight percent. Nonetheless, the World Bank estimates show that the current industrial water use in India is about 13 percent of the total freshwater withdrawal in the country and the water demand for industrial use and energy production will grow at a rate of 4.2 percent per year, rising from 67 billion cubic metres in 1999 to 228 billion cubic metres by 2025. All these estimates indicate that the industrial water demand is bound to grow in the coming years.
The menace of water pollution
Pollution of groundwater and surface water resources has been on the increase over the years. Industries not only consume water, but also pollute it. Broad estimates show that a bulk of the industrial wastes is dumped without treatment, especially in developing countries, thereby polluting the usable water supply. According to one expert opinion, on an average, each litre of wastewater discharged further pollutes about five to eight litres of water, which raises the share of industrial water use to somewhere between 35–50 per cent of the total water used in India, and not the seven to eight per cent that is considered as the industrial water use.
Some analysts opine that there is extensive increase in water use and wastewater disposal in the absence of clear environmental policies as well as fragmented responsibility and control over water used for industrial purposes. The future demand entails exerting pressure on the available freshwater resources, both due to water consumption and water pollution. India already scores poorly in terms of industrial water productivity.
Lack of effective regulations and coordination between regulatory bodies’ leads to mismanagement of industrial water problem, which is further compounded by the dearth of incentives provided to industry for efficient water use. Resultant impact becomes discernible in conflicts between industry and local communities over water allocation and water pollution. Water is a finite source and in the wake of shrinking glaciers, depletion of groundwater resources and pollution of ground and surface water resources, the increasing demand for water by different sectors of economy can’t keep pace with its supply. In the wake of water scarcity, domestic, agricultural, and industrial water needs are pitted against each other, and the resultant conflicts between these sectors may become unmanageable if water related issues are not addressed now.
Need for an industrial water policy
The subject of water in India is dealt with by a multiplicity of authorities/ministries having different mandates, which are not clearly defined and overlapping. The Ministry of Water Resource (MoWR) is the apex ministry responsible for water in India, but water pollution does not fall under its purview, nor does the industrial use of water. Undoubtedly, the Ministry of Industry (MoI) is concerned with the planning and development of water resources for industrial use; nevertheless, it has no mandate to control or regulate water use by industries.
The task of regulating the groundwater quality and quantity in the country is entrusted to the Central Groundwater Board (CGWB), which has mandate to do what it can with groundwater; however, it has so far only mapped the groundwater status. It has no mandate to charge for industrial groundwater use. While the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) regulate industrial water pollution and charge water cess based on the amount of wastewater discharged by the companies, they are not mandated to control sourcing of water from various sources. Resultantly, water conservation and pollution control measures have thus far not shown any significant success.
Admittedly, several industries have launched zero-discharge projects in their factories/plants; nonetheless, many others still continue to discharge effluents without treatment. Some experts opine that it is imperative for industries to adopt self-monitoring and regulation mechanism to continue to grow in a sustainable manner. It also devolves on industry associations like FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) and ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India) to facilitate dissemination of best practices in water and wastewater management. These aspects should constitute the main paradigms of a new industrial water policy in India.
The way forward
Water is a finite resource and in order to meet mounting demands of water in agriculture, industry and domestic sectors, emphasis has to be stressed on rainwater harvesting, encouraging judicious use of water resources, keeping water resources free from pollution and recycling of wastewater for reuse. The Government of India in 2015 required companies to obtain permission to use groundwater. In April 2016, the government said India would aim to reduce industrial water usage by half over five years by using newer technology to reuse, recover and recycle water. Relief for India’s tiring aquifers can’t come fast enough. More than a quarter of groundwater systems are too salty, becoming depleted or are over-exploited, according to some experts. Besides, at least 75 percent of the country’s rivers, lakes and other surface water bodies are contaminated by human and agricultural waste and industrial effluent.
The solution, amongst various other solutions, lies in chalking out a comprehensive Industrial Water Policy, which should address industrial water related issues in a holistic manner, and it should be followed by the establishment of a national nodal agency to coordinate water related issues with other departments/agencies in a mode of convergence. Lamenting that no noticeable changes to the protection of freshwater sources is yet featuring on the Indian government’s agenda, Jenny Gronwall, programme manager for water governance at Sweden’s Stockholm International Water Institute, has suggested that a reduce–reuse–recycle paradigm should be encouraged.
Dr. Arvind Kumar, a renowned water activist, specialises in ecosystem-based adaptation, water-energy-food nexus and community-based IWRM approaches. A PhD in Defense Studies, he has published over 350-plus research articles in reputed journals. He is Chairman, India Water Foundation, a nonprofit organisation (Special Consultative Status UN-ECOSOC), which is engaged in generating heightened public awareness at the national level in India and sub-regional level in the Asia-Pacific regarding water, its impact on human health, economic growth and environmental sustainability.