“I’m willing to admit that I may not always be right, but I’m never wrong” — Samuel Goldwyn


Month: February 2016

Water and Electricity (thoughts expressed in 2012)

Had written this for another blog in 2012. Some things have changed, and some still haven’t. Editorial updates are in red.

Here it is.

Hindustan Times, 15 June 2012
— 900 billion litres rainfall received in a year
— 300 billion litres could have been conserved had MCD’s rainwater harvesting project been implemented.

40 surgeries put off as water crisis deepensThe Times of India, 25 June 2012

Malls shut loos, turn down ACsThe Times of India, 25 June 2012

This is not the future, this is the present, this is now.

If the citizens continue to sit back and not put pressure on those called the
‘authorities’, who are supposed to serve the citizens in any case, they will not have water and they won’t have electricity.

No sympathy is due to either mall builders or owners. Real estate companies
only look for quick profits, they are not concerned about the environment. To
them a green building means using green tinted glass for the exteriors.

Had they had even a modicum of foresight, they would have explored and implemented options like Wind Solar Hybrid Electricity Supply Systems which are available in India from 600 watts to 200 Kilowatts, and larger capacities. [Better technologies are available now]

They would have thought in terms of solar air conditioning or hydro-thermal air conditioning systems.

Granted that the initial capital cost is higher for solar air conditioning systems. On the other hand there are hardly any operating costs, no pollution by way of running diesel generating sets, and savings in terms of diesel consumption, and electricity.

“Absorption chiller AC units are also very popular in Asian countries like Japan, where the high cost of electricity make them very desirable. Chillers constitute up to 40% of all installed commercial air conditioning tonnage. They are simple and dependable, using no harmful CFC (Freon, etc.) and some units actually operate without any moving parts.” (See here)

It is ironical that we have more sunlight in India than Japan.

Builders should have made rainwater harvesting an essential part of their building plans, they should have included water recycling and sewage disposal systems, when the buildings were made. [Has been implemented in a very small way]

They did not, so no air conditioning and no water for the loos. The “authorities” thought that supplying water to malls ranked higher than ensuring water supply to hospitals, so as the headlines say — no surgeries.

A reading of how the authorities respond to drinking water is provided by a PIL filed by TAPAS. (Google will locate the details of the case for those interested).

Read what the then Chief Secretary had said in in his order which was struck down by the court, and you will have an idea of what the “authorities” mindset is.

June 2000: TAPAS filed the public interest litigation (PIL) to ensure that the schemes are implemented and the people of Delhi are no longer deprived of their basic rights to receive safe and adequate supply of drinking water.

April 2009: The applicant sought quashing of the two orders issued by the Chief Secretary of the Delhi Government and the Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department with respect to the two water bodies.

Justices Mukul Mudgal and Vipin Sanghi stayed the order of Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta that said ‘the marshland in Jahangirpuri cannot be termed as a water body and the same shall be considered as per the land use plan of Master Plan Delhi 2021’. [There is a move to restore the wetlands as per a report in The Financial Express of 21 June 2015, titled ‘AUD role in Dheerpur wetland project an example for other varsities to follow: DDA chief’. Link]

The High Court has given the PWD and DJB two weeks time to file an affidavit about the status of the two water bodies.

The mess that the DDA and others concerned have created in the water catchment area and flood plains of the Yamuna are there for everyone to see. [The National Green Tribunal is currently considering the cases of apartment complexes built without environmental clearances on the water catchment area in Greater Noida]

We have had umpteen delegations visit umpteen countries for solutions, at the taxpayers expense of course, but sewage is still discharged into the Yamuna. [Things have changed with the AAP government in Delhi taking steps to change this situation]

Some of the steps which Delhi could do with immediately are:

  1. The creation of at least 6 large lakes to be filled with recycled water, and harvested rainwater. These would serve as storage areas.
  2. The management of these lakes to be with bodies like TAPAS in conjunction with the Centre for Science and Environment, or similar organizations. Their waterfront would provide leisure areas, and be revenue generators. Some of these lakes would be used for raising fish, giving another revenue stream, and providing healthy fish for consumers.
  3. Sewage to be treated before it is discharged into drains.
  4. Rainwater harvesting systems to be put into place on a war footing. People who have covered drains in front of their houses, without providing for outlets, should be heavily fined, otherwise they will never realize the value of water.
  5. No filling up of water bodies small or big, unless cleared by an environmental committee. No politician or bureaucrat or their nominees to be part of this committee. Seeing how the situation in the country has been managed so far, this committee should be under the President of India.
  6. Single window clearance for any permissions that might be required, within tight time-frames.
  7. The retro-fitting of Wind Solar Hybrid Electricity Supply Systems, for malls and office buildings which can supply electricity to the grid, when power is not being consumed by the building.

[Point 3 is being tackled, the others still require implementation]
Another headline from The Times of India, 25 June 2012 — Solar power shines on PV panel crash
Cost of generating solar power already on par with operations at coal-based plants. [Generation from Solar PV is increasing]

There would be many people more knowledgeable and qualified than I am, who could offer better solutions. We need to make the “authorities” move, and we also need to take personal and group initiatives to ensure our quality of life. [The citizens of Delhi have a responsive government in the shape of the AAP government, and a lot of improvements should take place]

This is another connected piece written at about the same time, 2012, which I am combining with this.


To come to the trigger for restarting a blog. There were two headlines in today’s Times of India, page 9 said City ready to tackle drinking water crisis by recycling sewage; page 21 said Water woes to fuel next world war?

A lot of like-minded citizens in India and around the world, would like municipalities and governments to start thinking in terms of zero waste. They need to start thinking in terms of waste disposal/treatment  as a revenue item and not as an expenditure item. [Have since suggested a solution in, ‘Kitchen “Waste”, Surplus Power, and No Pollution’]

We don’t need to send government officials abroad on study tours, they only waste tax-payers money. If any citizen comes forth with a solution, consider it, and keep the focus on the solution. Officials, (who are are not qualified to judge in any case), should also stop trying to lay down qualifications for people who can offer solutions.

We have no dearth of talent in India, for solving problems, they just need to be recognized. This quote deserves a mention,

‘Unfortunately the “I” in India has stood for imitation and inhibition for too long, it’s high time it stood for innovation… . ’— Dr Ramesh Mashelkar, Chairman, Marico Innovation Foundation.

Back to Water.

‘City ready to tackle drinking water crisis by recycling sewage
page 9, Times of India, 24 March 2012

New Delhi: Very soon Delhiites will be consuming the city’s waste water… . With raw water sources for Delhi highly limited, the capital will adopt this technology to recycle its waste water as well. Initially, 40 million gallons per day will be treated and added to raw water, which will be cleaned further at water treatment plants. This will help in meeting the drinking water demand of 3-4 million people in the city. [This is already being implemented. Have mentioned this in ‘Water — Recycling, Conservation, Harvesting’]

Delhi Jal Board and the government of Singapore have come to an in-principle agreement, and a memorandum of understanding will be signed between the two governments shortly. Singapore, which is meeting 10% of its drinking water needs by the ‘new water’ technology, will fund the entire consultancy for Delhi, including preparation of a detailed project report and tendering of the project. (The full text can be read in the TOI of 24 March 2012)

To take this thought further. (Just bear in mind that what was fanciful, or in the realm of science fiction, is reality today).

Here is another snippet which is analogous: In 1923 Robert Milliken suggested, ‘There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom.’ He was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics that year.

Had the governments of Delhi functioned with a different mindset, they would have treated sewage at entry points into drains, especially the major drains, called ganda nullahs in local parlance.

What would have happened to the same drains with treated water. We could have had a canal system all over Delhi which could have been used for transportation by small boats, and taken some load off the roads. We could have had a few waterfront Dilli Haats. We could have had a few more lakes. Instead waste was dumped into existing water bodies, choking them, and lots of people made money by constructing houses where water bodies once existed.

Delhiites could have had water-borne passage to NOIDA. What we do have, are big drains full of black stinking sewage, and since no imagination was used, the drains have been covered. Swept under the carpet, so to say.

So, now we don’t have enough water to drink. (You can’t drink a building).

Conserving water. Why do we have to have headlines every year about floods in Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh, and so on. Why can’t large reservoirs be constructed under government welfare schemes, to store flood waters for use around the year. Instead we have photographs on the front page, captioned ‘Minister _______ inspecting the flood waters’. And what happened to the Garland Canal system for inter-linking rivers, which has been around since the time of India’s independence.

This headline is even more alarming.

Water woes to fuel next world war?
US Intel Warns Of Future Conflicts

Washington: Drought, floods and a lack of fresh water may cause significant global instability and conflict in coming decades, as developing countries scramble to meet demand from exploding populations while dealing with the effects of climate change, US intelligence agencies said in a report on Thursday. (The full text can be read in the TOI of 24 March 2012).

Countries are already experiencing the effects of upstream countries tinkering with the flow of rivers that flow into downstream countries. This is not a political discourse, so we won’t mention any names.

Had a recent interaction with the owner of a company manufacturing organic and inorganic fertilizers and chemicals. When I asked the owner what he did with the waste, he said ‘what waste’, and said the last bit of anything left over from any process is converted into a product. We need more people like him.

So if you want to continue to have water to drink, wash your vegetables, have your daily bath, and do all the things you need water for, then get together and communicate to the powers that be, to build up water bodies, instead of more buildings, or you will be fighting a war with your neighbours for your share of water.

My apologies to those who are reading this outside India, since this is a very Delhi-centric piece, having local references. 

Water — Recycling, Conservation, Harvesting

Continuing my theme of value from “waste resources”, this is an expanded version of my post on LinkedIn. As usual have commented on several other connected issues, because the environment is a universe in itself, or rather the universe, and everything is inter-connected.

Government planners usually have a blinkered vision, and very rarely see inter-connections or the consequences which tinkering with one area will have on others.

Saw this article on 4 February, “Rajasthan Launches People’s Movement’ to Battle Water Woes”, in one of the newsletters I receive.

Reading through it, noticed that these objectives had been defined — Construction of minor irrigation tanks, canals, pipelines for drinking water, check dams, afforestation on wastelands, plantation and pasture development are some of the water conservation interventions planned under the campaign.

However one very important factor seemed to have been left out — recycling of waste water. This, when Rajasthan already has several sewage treatment plants. Recalled, that an initiative had been taken by the AAP government in Delhi recently to treat sewage and make the water fit for drinking. Quoting from an article on the initiative.

A decentralized waste water treatment plant in Keshopur will treat the water and supply [it] to nearby areas. The pilot project by Arvind Kejriwal government is named ‘Sujala Dhara’ and was launched in collaboration with NGO SANA.

The technology is already being used in the US and will be replicated in India to purify water. It involves treating water through five levels to make it of drinking quality. The plant can run 24 hours a day producing 4,000 litres of drinking water every hour. The technology has been designed by Absolute Water, an integrated water management company. (Source)

The plant which was set up at a cost of Rs 55 lakhs and runs on solar power can produce 66,000 litres of drinking water every day, which works out to a per litre cost of Re 0.22, which can be rounded off to Re 0.25.

Coming back to Rajasthan. Searched my files for a briefing note I had written several years back for a senior journalist, whom I’d told way back in 1990 that availability of water would become a big problem in future, especially for India. Politicians had no idea of environmental issues then, and still don’t have any idea today.

Since this is about water, it wouldn’t be out of place to say that the flooding which took place in Madras (Chennai) could have been avoided to a great extent, had political greed not allowed builders to build on flood plains. Bangalore (Bengaluru) is having problems with shrinking lakes, Delhi has had water bodies built over, with politicians and bureaucrats not realizing the incalculable consequences of their actions for monetary greed. I say politicians and bureaucrats because they are the ones who accord permissions to builders. A similar situation exists all over the country. This image says it all.

Only when the last tree has diedBuilders bear the biggest responsibility for encroachment and environmental destruction. It is laudable that the National Green Tribunal has taken up case of illegally made apartment buildings without environmental clearances in Greater Noida on the flood plains of the Yamuna.

Coming back to my briefing note of several years ago, I am reproducing it verbatim, with a few editorial comments. [Since this piece will become very long otherwise, shall write a separate one reproducing what I had written in 2012 — very few things have changed since then. Link]

Waste water is a resource, processing of which is usually regarded as an expense by municipalities and local governments, and accounts for their reluctance in setting up sewage treatment / waste water treatment facilities.

Even rainwater is treated no better. Madras gets 50 inches of rain, 47 is washed into the sea. Madras has a water problem!

This forms the basic concept for developing, greening and adding value to any area.

In this particular process the raw material or basic building block — waste water is free. The initial cost is to transport it (by pipeline) to the processing site.

Wastewater-1For example, Jodhpur is in an arid zone, and has set up a 20 mld sewage treatment plant with assistance from the ADB as part of a 90 crore package. After treatment the water will be released into a river. It has one lean year in three years and a famine every eight years. [Why not release the water in a lake, and the overflow into the river]

With a population of approx 800,000 and an extremely conservative estimate of 10 litres of waste-water per person, we have 8,000,000 litres of water available per day. Taking wastage of 50% we still have around 4 million litres per day or 120 million litres in a month. Conclusion:  Greening is possible even in an arid zone.

Why has this not been done so far? Because no one has looked at the problem in entirety, or thought of a solution or benefits in an integrated fashion.

 An integrated solution means the management of a diverse group of experts from a wide range of fields, and the person at the top has to have some understanding of each field to know when to call in each expert, or combination of experts. The best part is that all the knowledge and technology is available in the country.

What is the value of 100 sq km of barren land, and the value of the same land when it has water, vegetation, and trees? [We are not talking about monetary value, but the value of the land to the community as a whole]

If waste processing liquid and solid, organic and inorganic, is done in an integrated manner in any city, it can be self-sufficient in the matters of food, water, and electricity. I have presented one possible plan in my earlier piece here, (‘Kitchen “Waste”, Surplus Power, and No Pollution’)

A city like Delhi should have at least 6 large lakes, [better than mindlessly developing malls, and feeling happy about the money recovered from high auction prices], but the people who were entrusted with its “development” have destroyed most of the water bodies, just because they thought that urban development meant concretising everything in sight. As shown in the graphic above lakes with treated non-polluted water can be used for breeding fish, which can lead to weekend angling (for a fee), with small restaurants and hotels around them run by NGO’s, women’s self-help groups, and students of catering institutes, water sports of the non-powered kind, (rowing boats and sailing), and with a pathway for walking, around them. They would also be a source of drinking water, since they will be getting an inflow of treated water daily.

Gurgaon could do with a couple of lakes using treated sullage. They don’t have any independent source of water, are supplied through various canals with a transmission loss of 50%, and have a groundwater table which is depleting with each passing year.

The first casualties in any kind of development, whether roads or buildings, are trees. Trees which are cooling, provide shade, and absorb carbon dioxide are looked on as obstructions. Bureaucrats came up with a very nice phrase called “compensatory afforestation”, which is even codified in a Bill. Basically it means that the despoilers can cut down any number of trees as long as they promise to plant ten times more at another site, which is normally kilometres away. Something akin to cutting out a person’s lungs, placing them kilometres away, and asking the person to breathe.

If trees are cut down, then they need to be replaced with equal sized trees in the same area. This will make planners think twice about cutting down trees. One cannot replace a 50-year old tree with a sapling, and say it has been replaced. Each city must have tree transplantation machines capable of handling 30- to 40-foot trees, so that trees are relocated and not cut. Transplantation rigs and experts are available, so “authorities” cannot wash their hands off this situation. Tree relocation should be made part of any contract, where permission to cut trees is sought.

tree-planting machine5
Here is an example of tree-cutting for “development”. You can read the full article here. [It is a different matter that we don’t require more statues, the same money can be better spent on providing Medicare — like the AAP government — and schools]

Here’s another first person account of tree felling for highways.

The whole system of environmental clearances and conditions need re-examination to favour people and the environment, and not favour those who destroy it for some illusory “development” or to favour any lobby.

The only way that such things can be prevented is by having very strong citizen groups who can tell their elected representatives, that they’ve been elected to govern and not given a licence to destroy the environment.

A last thought on water for now. Bottled Water versus Tap Water. Even though this graphic is from the US, it is applicable universally. The basic message is cut down on bottled water. The cost of 20 litres of bottled water in Delhi is ca. Rs 70. The cost of 20,000 litres supplied by the Delhi Jal Board in Delhi is Rs Rs 153.43.

Bottled Water and Tap Water

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