Introducing the Discussion on Setting Standards and Financing Waste Water Management In India

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Introducing the Discussion on Setting Standards and Financing Waste Water Management In India

Managing waste water is one of the key activities listed by the Ministries of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) and Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) once an administrative unit becomes free from open defecation (ODF). While the MDWS’ guidelines enjoin states to “initiate solid and liquid waste management (SLWM) programmes in ODF villages”, the MoHUA’s guidelines deals with managing faecal matter. They mandate the regular emptying, treatment and/or safe disposal of septage from toilets.

Waste water management includes the safe collection, transport, treatment and recycling/reuse/disposal of grey and black water. Water is taken from underground aquifers and surface sources such as rivers and ponds. Waste water is returned to mostly surface sources and some re-enters aquifers. In today’s reality waste water is in India either completely untreated when it is discharged, or just partly treated. Additionally, there are challenges around setting standards that are achievable, and measuring the quality of effluents. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has estimated that 80% of India’s rivers are polluted by sewage and other waste water from rural and urban areas.

Government of India statistics indicate rural India generates nearly 40,000 million litres per day (MLD) of waste water. Large panchayats, with a population of over 5,000, generate half of this. Cities generate an additional estimated 50,000 MLD of waste water. There is practically no treatment of waste water in rural India; only about a third of waste water from cities is treated.

This indicates a severe problem where untreated waste water is discharged back into rivers or allowed to flow into open spaces and improperly-made soak pits. In all discharge cases, it affects human and environmental health and undermines the purpose of safe water supply and sanitation. Waste water, therefore, is a boon and a bane.

The boon is in the nutrients domestic sewage carries. If health concerns are addressed through proper handling and use – e.g. by following the WHO (2006) Guidelines for the safe use of wastewater, excreta and greywater – this is an assured source of nutrients and water for farmers.

Across India, industry has been lifting and treating raw sewage for its use. However, in an ‘Insights’ discussion on Experience sharing on wastewater Challenges and solutions, organized by SuSanA, IRC and the India Sanitation Coalition in Mumbai, it emerged only a few state governments are systematically promoting the reuse of sewage under public-private partnerships. In Gujarat several municipal corporations have signed memoranda of understanding with farmers’ organizations to sell sewage.

This discussion will examine a few aspects of the waste water economy. Based on the Insights discussions, two areas will be taken up for further discussions.

Setting appropriate standards

This topic will examine the standards needed for waste water to be used in agriculture. Participants in the Insights session suggested standards for waste water use in agriculture be developed in consultation with the users of waste water or sewage. In the case of use by agriculture, farmers should be part of the process to understand and incorporate their concerns about using waste water or sewage. The standards and process need to balance these concerns with costs of treatment to provide the most appropriate combination.

There are some examples in India where farmers use waste water from municipalities under contracts in several cities of Gujarat. These cities have no sewage treatment plants but have sewage or drain networks. They send their water to sewage farms where it is naturally treated. However, there are problems with this system as was evident when, in Bhopal, the collector ordered the destruction of crops irrigated with sewage on health concerns. Karnataka has recognised that sewage and sludge can be reused in agriculture. Additionally, the State is executing a ₹ 2,300 crore project to transport sewage treated to secondary levels to three districts adjacent to Bangalore for reviving tanks. In turn, they will be used to irrigate more than 50,000 hectares of drought-prone lands.

Under this topic, the following points can be considered:
  1. What standards already exist in India and abroad (such as those developed by WHO, USEPA or CPCB) for reuse of treated sewage for agriculture?
  2. Examples of reuse of treated sewage for agriculture in India and their compliance to standards (monitoring and enforcement).

Alka Palrecha from the NGO People First will lead this topic. You can respond to it from 6 – 15 February.

Financing capital and running costs

The second area to be examined further are existing and new financing mechanisms which could be used to support capital and operating costs to set up treatment facilities for sewage and sludge. While rural areas have two-pit latrines, a few small cities have installed small sewage treatment plants. Therefore, the financing mechanisms have to consider both rural and urban scenarios.
Companies have been interested in using waste water because of high water charges for commercial connections. some examples are Excel Industries in Mumbai which has lifted sewage from the municipal corporation for its use. Orchid Hotels has recycled its waste water for non-potable use. Madras Refineries buys untreated sewage from the Chennai Municipal Corporation. The challenge is to expand this without resorting to ‘cherry picking’?

Black water is a challenge even in rural areas. Nearly 60% toilets and even septic tanks used by nearly a third of people are badly designed and made.

The discussion will cover the following:
  1. What are the existing and new financing mechanisms and sources of finance?
  2. Which financial institutions lend to the sector, to which sort of entity (private, government or non-profit), and for what (capital or running costs)?
  3. What are principles (such as ‘the polluter pays’) that can be applied?

Sharada Prasad, PhD scholar from the University of California Berkeley will lead this topic. It will be open for comments from 16 – 25 February.

The synthesis document and white paper from the discussion will be circulated to members and the Government of India that is trying to address these and other issues related to waste water management.

You can refer to the following documents:

Guidelines for the safe use of wastewater, excreta and greywater (Vol 1-4), WHO.

Sanitation safety planning - Manual for safe use and disposal of wastewater, greywater and excreta, WHO.


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