The thirsty summer months are not yet here but already tempers are rising in some parts of the country over access to water. Last week, protests erupted in drought-hit Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district after the Madras High Court lifted a ban, allowing two major cola companies to draw water from the Thamirabarani river. The ruling came on a PIL filed by activists who submitted that the river supported drinking water projects and irrigation in through Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts. The PIL contended that drawing of water for the bottling plants will make farming difficult . The public works department, however, claimed that there was sufficient water in the river and only surplus water was given to companies.
For now, this case may have gone in favour of the cola companies, but conflagrations over water between communities and industry is becoming a new normal in India. While no government can afford to allow its people go thirsty, it cannot also allow industry to be hit. For a quick review of the nightmare staring at us and how drought can hit industry, let’s go back to what happened last year: 13 states were declared drought-hit and an industry estimate said that several categories --- thermal power plants, iron and steel, agro-based food products and beverages, textiles, and pulp and paper --- were operating below their optimal production capacities. According to the World Bank, West Asia, North Africa, Central Asia and South Asia are likely to suffer the biggest economic hit from water scarcity as climate change takes hold, enough to take double digits off their GDP.
While governments will have to find better ways of equitable distribution, industry can do a lot to increase their water use efficiencies by using less freshwater per unit of product produced, measured against a certain baseline. The CII-Triveni Water Institute and the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Center of Excellence on Water have made several recommendations for industries: Making water audits of all water users compulsory; making municipal and industry connect so that treated municipal sewage could be used by industry for its various needs; incentivise wastewater recycling; rainwater harvesting and introduce policy reforms and progressive measures for innovations, conservation and efficient utilisation of resources. Additionally, it has also advised its members to undertake watershed-based district and sub-district level water resources planning using state-of-the-art hydrological tools and techniques such as WATSCAN (Water Resources Evaluation and Management Tool). This tool scientifically identifies areas of high and low water generation, accumulation and loses, identifying a basket of strategies for an improved water scenario. The crisis is real for both people and industry in India; court orders can at best be short-term solutions.