India in the World – Part III: Water

A famous saying goes something like: ‘Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink’.

This could very well be the future of India and the World. Some analysts predict that the next war is going to be fought not over oil but over clean water.

Out of a total population of approximately 6 billion people in the World, about 1 billion do not have access to potable water.

There are many reasons for this:

  1. Reduced rainfall
  2. Poisoning of the existing sources of clean water
  3. Overuse of existing water sources without any replenishment

For people living in the major cities of India this is a well known fact. Every year during the summers there is a recurring water shortage. Many areas go without water for days at a time.

The water shortage doesn’t just mean that we can’t have a bath or that we will need to buy bottled water. It is a major part of the vicious circle which has been set in motion throughout the World and is highly evident in countries like India.

Shortage of water is there not only in cities but also in the rural areas. Due to falling water tables (see this link for more) and slow poisioning of existing resources due to overuse of fertilizers the quality of crops is under threat. Reduced crops (in quality and quantity) means less food for the people. With the rising population this means that the number of mouths to feed is increasing where as resources required to feed them are decreasing. 

Let us try and analyse why in India we have such a shortfall. There different stages within the water supply chain:

  1. Production (from a source)
  2. Water Treatment
  3. Transportation
  4. Use
  5. Return 


 There are various sources of clean water. These include:

  1. Lakes
  2. Rivers
  3. Reservoirs
  4. Underground Sources
  5. Rainwater
  6. Re-cycled water

Lakes and Rivers

The problem with lakes and rivers is that they can be used, abused and overused very easily since they are easy to get at. In India typically the condition of rivers and lakes is not all that good. Think I am overstating the problem? Take a look at these:[1] [2] [3]

The typical scenario for a river is that pollution levels increase dramatically as it encounters the first major city as it flows out from the source. This is because the people use the river as a drain as well as a source of water. This report from the Central Pollution Control Board (of the Govt. of India) highlights this point for the river Yamuna as it crosses through Delhi (NCR). In fact now if the source of the river is accessable and impotant from a religious point of view (for example in case of Ganga and Yamuna rivers) the pollution can be found at the source itself.

The same situation exists for lakes especially when cities spring up around lakes and then slowly swollow up the lake till nothing is left but an area covered with foul smelling sludge.

There has been some work done in processing river water and injecting used (but treated) water back into the river relative to a big city. This increases the fresh water supply in the river.  


These are man-made ‘tanks’ constructed to store excess water from rivers or rain water. Such strtuctures are quite common in the southern part of India in the region of the Deccan Plateau. There the ground is rocky which means the rainwater just slides off. Therefore tanks are made to store rain water which can then be used later. This has been the state of affairs for centuries. The main problem is that the number of people which are being supported by such reservoirs have increased dramatically with time due to the population explosion. This leads to overuse and abuse.

Reservoirs are also used for pisci-culture where fishes are raised in the catchment area. Reservoirs linked with dams are also used for electricity production. Other things that can be done are two have water treatment based around natural methods within these tanks. So as a first stage the waste water can be processed by a treatment plant. The treated water then released into the reservoir where it mixes with fresh water (e.g. from rain) and processed using biological methods. This water is then again pumped out for use. All the while ensuring that the water levels return to their previous levels at the end of a cycle (which could stretch for a year maybe?).

Underground Sources

These sources can be tapped through wells and bore-wells. One of the major problems with such resources is the fact that they do not replenish rapidly especially when there is heavy extraction. A report by the The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) states Groundwater depletion is a pressing challenge for India’. This is seen as a major problem especially for states like Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat. This is a dangerous situation for India since Punjab and Haryana produce a large percentage of foodgrains in India.


This is another important source of water both for direct irrigation as well as after storage in reservoirs. But it is not a source that can be depended on. Rainfall patterns keep changing. One year there is a deluge the next a dry spell.

Recently there has been an increase in rain-water harvesting where the rain-water is used to recharge ground water as well as stored for use later. This is definitely the right direction. Recharging of ground water is most important.  Recycled Water

This is an important source especially for large cities which have water demand in millions of gallons per day (MGD). Cities like Delhi and Bangalore are looking towards supplementing existing sources with recycled water (see this report). Recycling water requires setting up of waste water processing plants which are expensive to build and maintain.

Water Treatment

In India, especially in the big cities, it is difficult to use water direct from the source. If groundwater is being used then it can definitely not be used for human consumption directly. The water supplied by the government agencies also tends to be of low quality. Therefore water treatement takes place at the water suppliers as well as within individual households (those who can afford it) before use.

The poblem is that not all water is sourced through these water treatment plants. People get direct groundwater through bore-wells. This water is obviously untreated, often polluted with heavy metals and pesticides/fertilizers.

 Water treatment issue is now becoming important since direct sources like rivers and groundwater can no longer supply the same levels of usable water as before. Typically the reliance on direct sources of water should reduce as more and more people join the water delivery network. But can this network handle so many new connections?

Obviously building more water treatment and recycling plants is one solution to the above problem. I think another thing which needs to be encouraged is community based water treatment. Where instead of huge plants situated miles away from the consumer have local water treatment plants. There might be issues related to economics of scale but I am sure these would be outweighed by the benefits to the consumer.

Transportation of Water

The water once treated is transported through pipes to the various households. The network in most Indian cities is very old. There are often pipe-bursts and underground leaks which ends up contaminating the treated water when it is being transported from the treatment plants. Often people who do not have access to the water network tamper with the pipes to get some water to use.

Another issue is that the booster pumps used to pump water are heavily reliant on power from the local grid. In case of local grid failure during the pumps too cannot work which leaves people without water and power.

There are two possible solutions to the transportation problem.

The first one is to take the pumping stations off the grid and use alternate sources of power connected directly to the pumping station (for example solar and wind power).

The second thing is to slowly upgrade the network while increasing connectivity. More and more people need to be bought into the network so that water usage can be monitored and controlled. This will also allow for more efficient use (and reuse) of the water. This is tough but it needs to be done sooner rather than later.


This part of the water supply chain is where the greatest damage is done. Indiscriminant use of water and illegal dumping of waste into rivers ensures that a large amount of water returns to nature untreated and under-utilised.

We should use water with a great deal of care and thought. Most people in India have to struggle to get clean water. Yet you find in cities people using high-pressure hoses to clean their cars and water-storage tanks overflowing every day.

We should practice rain-water harvesting and insist that local community also adopts it for parks and other open areas. We should plant more trees and encourage growth of life. It will attract more rainfall as well as improve the environment. Who likes concrete!

Return of Water

Water after use is returned to nature one way or the other. When you grab a drink of water in your house and few drops splash down on to the floor, that is water returning to nature. But that water is now not usable. When you wash dishes and the water goes back to the sewer that water is re-usable. It can be treated.

The journey back is long! It again travels through a network of pipes which are often in equally bad condition. Sewage pipes often leak and mix with clean water and many times this happens underground. The only way to detect this is when the water supply reaching the house has a funny odor or colour or is obviously polluted.

This cycle should be made smaller. Have local sewage treatement plants which pump back re-cycled water. This make the loop tighter and easier to maintain.

On the whole the water situation in India is bad and getting worse. Every year there is the same water crisis. I think it is time that few steps are taken by us (the citizens and the consumers) to ensure that this problem doesnt cripple the growth of the country and the future of our children.



India in the World – Part II: Power

We, the citizens of India do enjoy punishment. As if life was not tough enough with 40 degree winds blasting through the cities we have taken the suffering to a whole new level. In this post I will put some bones on the problems that we Indians face which makes life (to quote a friend) ‘hell’.

There are three main areas where small (but significant) improvements will lead to a big change in the quality of life of the population in general:

1) Power
2) Water
3) Transport

The key to everything is Power. That is why it is number one on my list. Both Electric Power and Political Power.

The common man suffers from the lack of both Political as well as Electric Power. Clearly voting once in 4 years is not good enough. The same way getting Electricity once a day is not good enough.

Let us deal with the easier problem of Electic Power first.

Why do we have a power shortage in India? Is it because we do not have enough money to generate power? Is it because we do not have the infrastructure? What is the reason then?
There are several reasons for this particular problem. So lets start at the source (power plant) and take it down the chain to the house of the common man.

A. The Power Plant
There is clearly a shortfall in generation capacity and demand. Check out the Power Grid Corporation’s Northern Regional Load Dispatch Center ( – check their daily reports as well) for the proof. At the time of writing this post peak demand shortfall in North India was about 2000MW and off-peak about 1000MW. So that doesn’t look all that bad isnt it. I mean off peak shortage of 1000MW and peak of 2000MW… well then why not build a power plant to get rid of that?

It appears that the people at the Power Ministry ( have been working on doing just that. Also check out the ‘Power Scenario at a Glance’ section on their website. The funny bit is the gap between demand and supply of power has been steadily widening. From single digit percentages to double digits in certain regions. Overall since 2002-2003 the gap has increased from 12.2% to 17% (as of March 2008). So it is safe to assume that our Government has been caught napping on this one (what a surprise).

So what is the solution? Well naturally the Government says there is a shortfall lets get rid of this entirely! The magic solution is called ‘Ultra-mega Power Projects’. These are defined as power plants which generate 4000MW or above. All the projects taken together aim to create additional 100,000MW of generation capacity by 2012. So after ignoring the problem for years the Government now decides to throw everything including the kitchen sink at the problem hoping it is solved somehow.

All this sounds good to us sitting in the cities far away from these UMPPs but what we don’t realise is all of the UMPPs are going to be thermal plants based on coal. In other words god only knows how much pollution a 4000MW coal-based power plant creates. Anyone want to give me any number on this one?

Clearly the government is looking at economics of scale. Bigger power plant means lower cost per unit of power. But what about the long term impact? What about smaller projects which are sustainable? How about creating compact power plants which can be deployed in areas which suffer acute power shortages. Especially if these power plants are based on renewable sources of energy?

B. The Transmission Network
These are the long haul power lines which carry electricity from the power plants to distribution centers near major cities. The funny bit is these transmission cables are still using old technology. The problem is that just generating loads of extra electricity is not enough. You must be able to reach it to where it is needed, efficiently. This is what the Power Ministry website also talks about (taking an ‘integrated approach’).

The use of ‘new technology’ means using High Voltage Direct Current links for long haul transmission (would be used with UMPPs to deliver power directly to heavy demand areas such as NCR) . Currently there is only one HVDC link between Rihand (in UP where there is a thermal power plant) and Dadri (near Delhi).

C. The Distribution Network
This is where the problems get serious and the negative effect of ‘politics’ is the most. The distribution networks take up the power transmission from the long haul links. Here the voltage is reduced and bought closer to what is used for domestic and industrial applications. The problem is in a populated and not-so-well managed city like Delhi the distribution network is both old and severly stressed out. It is like asking an old man to do something that even a young man won’t be able to do. The challenge facing power discoms (distribution companies) is two-fold. Expanding and upgrading the network while maintaining (or improving) efficiency and ensuring power supply. This of course rarely happens.
A typical example (from my personal experience):

– There is a colony where the only transformer keeps overloading (and in the process sometimes catches fire). This results in long power cuts. Why? Because the discom doesn’t realise that due to the increased load the single transformer is doing the work of two transformers. Well eventually this fact does sink into their brains so they put a second transformer. But by now the power generated is not enough to meet the demand. So the power cuts continue!

Then of course there is a problem of power theft. It is not just the poor people who do that. It is mostly done by people like you and me! People carrying on commercial work on a domestic power supply. Overdrawing power by using multiple air-conditioners on the AC line. The poor people don’t have air-conditioners in every room or factories operating from their basements.
So in this case it is the civic attitude of the public. The prevailing attitude is: do whatever is required to survive and don’t care about other people. This needs to change.

Due to these factors the Transmission and Distribution losses at one time, in the not too distant past, were a whopping 50% (2002 before privatization of distribution)! As of 2006 October these have been reduced to about 35%.

This when coupled with the failures of the longhaul transmission system and the gap between demand and supply results in headlines like:

Gurgaon Power Crisis May Worsen Over Next Year As Shortages Reach Nearly 2500 Mega Watts

(February, 2008)

Apex court asks Delhi Govt. to file status report on power crisis

(Janurary, 2008)


My solution is a five pronged attack on the problem:

– Encourage greater private sector involvement and R&D (especially in renewable sources) effort in power generaton/transmission/distribution.

– Have a local as well as global plan to tackle shortfalls (this includes both short term and long term shortfalls).

– Use energy saving devices and encourage their use by the common man.

– Concentrate on renewable sources of electricity and implement Micro-Scale Power Projects especially for urban areas.

– Work towards community-based power production/transmission/distribution. Make people responsible for the power they use.

India in the World


Was watching NDTV News the other day… the newsreader was talking about the recent successful test of Agni-III missile. He said ‘…we now have the capability to hit Tel Aviv and Beijing…

This statement made me sit up and pay attention to the rest of the story. It also made me smile.

While we might now have the capability to ‘hit’ Tel-Aviv and Beijing we are increasingly loosing the capability to take care of our huge population. A case in point is the much touted National Capital Region (NCR).

NCR was created to ‘distribute’ development in the area surrounding Delhi. But it has ended up being something out of a nightmare. It has broken all kinds of ‘bad’ records. From being dangerous for women to record levels of pollution.

It is weird that Delhi has been having water and power shortage for decades now. In fact as far back as my memory goes there have been powercuts especially during the summer. The situation is a hundred times worse in the greater NCR area. Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Faridabad.

People don’t seem to think this is anything big. Every year the same complaints. But no changes. No new development.
Yet we can now strike Tel-Aviv and Beijing.
Maybe the saying is correct that the best way of dealing with a dissatisfied population is to divert their attention. That is the funny bit about India. The way there is duality in everything. The best of brands and water shortages (but that is only for the poor and middle class folks).
I want to figure out what will bring change. What will get rid of this duality. What will ensure that we have clean drinking water alongside multi-national brands. Regular power supply to charge up our Nokia phones, Dell notebooks and Apple Ipods.
I will try to figure this out..


The Nose of Man!

“I must confess that I do not understand why things are so arranged, that women should seize us by the nose as deftly as they do the handle of a teapot. Either their hands are so constructed or else our noses are good for nothing else.”


How the two Ivans quarrelled by Nikolai Gogol

I guess women have always had this ability to lead men around with their noses like cattle!


“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”

“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” – Mahatma Gandhi

It is true that the impact of society is killing off these old concepts. If anyone lives by them they are thought to be idealistic. Day to day life is too tough to live by these concepts… or is it?

I think they are still valid today and that living by them has become even more important.

Speak no evil – in today’s world it means don’t spread rumors, don’t talk bad behind people’s back or create ill-will between people. Very easy to do in today’s age and very important as well! Why? Because most of the conflicts get more complicated when people do not think before they speak or think excessively before speaking.

Hear no evil – in today’s world it means to make up your own mind. Not to listen to things just because people are screaming them at you. If people come at you with an attitude of hate or anger, disregard it instead of replying. Be sure of yourself and your actions. Do not listen to people who preach hate and try to create divide. Remember the policy of divide and rule starts with hearing evil against yourself and the people around you.

See no evil – it means more than just closing your eyes to bad things. It means not tolerating bad things. If you see someone in trouble or something bad happening to them do not close your eyes… but go ahead and help them so that bad things are reduced in society.

The beauty of the saying is in the fact that it is quite subjective. Since bad/evil means different things to different people at different times. That is why, I say again, this saying remains valid even now.