Conference report: The Anil Agarwal Dialogue on Excreta does matter organised by Centre for Science and Environment on 45 March 2013 at New Delhi

India Water Portal
Saturday, November 22, 2014 - 10:30

A close examination of these two issues shows that the water and sewage challenge is already grave and could get worse. With this as the backdrop, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi, organised a two day conference called the Anil Agarwal Dialogue on “Excreta does matter”. The conference took place at the Jacaranda Hall, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi on 4 and 5 March 2013.

The dialogue aimed at furthering the agenda of CSE’s seventh State of India’s Environment report titled Excreta Matters. This report is a comprehensive survey of the situation of water and wastewater management in 71 Indian cities. The study found that most cities lack a basic policy direction on how best to tackle issues of demand, supply and treatment of water, and of management of sewage. 

The Dialogue being the first of its kind brought together a wide range of professionals, activists, practitioners, policy makers, academicians, researchers and administrators from the water sector. The event was aimed at drawing attention on the critical issues of how cities will get affordable and sustainable water and waste systems that can supply to all and take back and treat the sewage of all.

CSE Conference logo

Climate change, increasing population and its demand for fresh water, over-exploitation of natural resources, conflicts between user’s over sharing of resources, declining ecosystems, unplanned urbanisation and poor water and sewage management practices are posing a serious health and environmental threat. With extreme variability in climate, the threats are going to accentuate and become severe. These problems not only highlight the grim situation in which we are living but also raise an important question as to the kind of development path we have chosen to follow.

The country’s economy may be growing due to a growth various industries but the pollution that emerges as a result is quickly spiralling out of control. With the waste being dumped into fresh water sources such as rivers and lakes, the problems are escalating at a rapid rate. The issue of sewage management has, for a long time, acquired little attention in the policy circles. This is evident from the number of open drains one sees in any of the Indian cities along with the number of newspaper articles that cite cases on the malpractices of manual scavenging and campaigns and ‘yatras’ that are being organised to end open defecation. Thus any steps taken towards improving the status of water management is incomplete without giving adequate attention to the issues of sewage.

As highlighted by the report by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on "Excreta Matters: How urban India is soaking up water, polluting rivers and drowning in its own waste" , it is important to find immediate answers to how the country should manage its water needs so that it does not drown in its own excreta.

The conference aimed to serve as a platform for consultation and debate between a large number of different stakeholders on the issues centred around the governance of water and sewage. More than 500 participants representing different organisations attended the conference and 57 speakers gave wide-ranging points of view on key aspects of urban water management. The conference reminded us of the urgency and importance of managing excreta as well as the challenges of managing it. Though these problems and challenges were local in nature the conference called on us to look for solutions on a national scale.

The plenary session started with a brief talk by Sunita Narain, CSE, who emphasised that we need to:

  • Reinvent a growth model that is sustainable, equitable and affordable
  • Provide clean drinking water and sanitation facilities to all
  • Ensure that there are clean flowing rivers 
  • Restore the lost ecology of our country

Following this, A Vaidyanathan, former member of the Planning Commission, drew attention to the need for collection, collation and organization of data on water and sewage.

The conference featured presentations on various themes of water and sewage management over a 2-day period. The highlights of day 1 are as follows:

Session 1: Urban water scapes - Urban water catchments and commands

An overview on water economy and vanishing groundwater sources accompanied by the shift in farming from subsistence to commercial was highlighted by Tushaar Shah. He elaborated on how the introduction of  irrigation through pump sets changed the idea of cropping. This eventually lead to dropping of water tables and commercialisation of water. Following this, the involvement of local communities in planning of cities was addressed by Amitabh Kant. The issue of social conflicts linked to sharing of water, pollution of water resources and colonisation of resources were illustrated in K J Joy's presentation. The performance of Maharashtra Sujal Nirmal Abhiyan was elaborated by Malini Shankar. The possible ways to optimise local water resources and its availability in Chennai was highlighted by S. Janakarajan. The larger question of the role played by the state and the ways to reform it was the focus of Marie- Helene Zerah's presentation. 
Following are the presentations given by the speakers:
  1. Nature and organization of India’s water economy by Tushaar Shah, International Water Management Institute
  2. Water conflicts in the context of increasing urbanisation and industrialisation by K J Joy, Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management
  3. Urban water reforms-Maharashtra-MSNA by Malini V Shankar, Water Resources Department, Maharashtra
  4. Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) Project by Amitabh Kant, Delhi- Mumbai Industrial Corridor
  5. Optimising local water resources and availability in urban and peri-urban Chennai by S.Janakarajan, Madras Institute of Development Studies

Session 2: Sponging off urban lakes

The environmental issues cenetered around the lakes of Hyderabad, Bangalore, Srinagar, Kerala and Jaipur such as reduction in their numbers and size; the growing impact of urbanisation and its effects on land use pattern in the city; encroachment by infrastructure developers; destruction of water quality due to salinity and pollution; conflict among local communities over sharing of the resources were  elaborated on by Anjal Prakash, Bhargavi Rao, Irfan Yasin, N C Narayanan and Rajeev Lunkad.
Following are the presentations given by the speakers:
  1. Man Sagar restoration model: Success through innovation by Rajeev Lunkad, The Jal Mahal Resorts Pvt Ltd 
  2. Lakes of Hyderabad: Would they survive? by Anjal Prakash, SaciWATERs
  3. Bangalore’s lakes and impact on ground water by  Bhargavi S.Rao, Environment Support Group
  4. Agriculture to Tourism and Deepening Environmental Crisis in Lake Vembanad by NC Narayanan, IIT Bombay
Session 3: Groundwater-What lies beneath?
The overexploitation of urban groundwater resources, the impact of urbanisation on the resource, pollution and the need to closely examine the hydro-geological factors before planning for the improvement of water management practices were elaborated on by citing various examples in the country.  The speakers of this session were: Himanshu Kulkarni, Sushil Gupta, Rakesh Kumar, Archana Vaidya and Yogesh Jadeja.
Following are the presentations given by the speakers:
  1. Groundwater in urban India by Himanshu Kulkarni, Adavanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management
  2. Urban groundwater monitoring and 377 million live management by Sushil Gupta, Central Groundwater Board
  3. Experiences of acquifer mapping and groundwater monitoring in urban areas case study of Bhuj city by Yogesh Jadeja, Arid Communities and Technologies
Session 4: Fouled- Urban sewage mismanagement
The focus of the session was to highlight the problems emerging from the deplorable condition of sewage systems in cities. Deepak Kantawala, Gaurav Gupta and Shyam Asolekar elaborated on the state of the system, its deficiencies and its inability to put generated sewage to productive use. Other topics presented included various approaches to safe disposal of excreta and black waste water, the economics behind sewage treatement technologies and the need for reusing wastewater by Sriniwas Chari, Arunabha Majumder, Uday Kelkar, Abhay Kantak, Dirk Walther and Vipul Goyal.
Following are the presentations given by the speakers:
  1. Management of sewage by Deepak Kantawala, Independent Consultant
  2. Challenges of sewage treatment in India by Shyam R. Asolekar, IIT Bombay
  3. Urban sanitation : Experiences and lessons by Srinivas Chary Vedala, ASCI, Hyderabad
  4. STP technologies & their cost effectiveness by Arunabha Majumder, Jadavpur University
  5. Time to think out of the box need of wastewater reuse in India by Uday Kelkar, NJS Consultants
  6. Economics of sewage management by Abhay Kantak, Crisil
  7. Implementation of city sanitation plan from planning to practical intervention by Dirk Walther, Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationals Zusammenarbeit
  8. Innovative technologies for urban waste water treatment by Mukesh Grover
Session 5: Special session addressed by Shri M Hamid Ansari, Vice President of India
The chief guest highlighted that the issue of untreated sewage was beginning to gain importance.  This is a positive way forward in the management of blackwater. Further the Vice President, elaborated how this conference has furthered the agenda of CSE’s Seventh State of India’s Environment, a comprehensive survey, titled Excreta Matters, of water and wastewater management in 71 Indian cities. The excerpts of his speech can be acessed hereTo see the video of the speech click here
Session 6: Strategy meeting for lake and river warriors
This was a brain stroming session, which focussed on issues related to river and lake pollution across the country. The aim was to focus on a common strategy for future action plans, which addressed these problems.
The highlights for day 2 are as follows:

Session 7: Killing rivers-revival strategies

The heightened risk posed by poor wastewater management practices was at the heart of the presentations given on the second day of the conference. It started with a session on the serious concerns over the high levels of river pollution across the country drawing examples from East, West, South and North. The speakers Rajendra Singh, Leo Saldanha, R M Bhardwaj, T Mohan, Rochamliana and Priyanie Amerasinghe Local highlighted issues such as solutions to deal with the problems of river pollution, active participation of the community and the relentless efforts taken by people to fight for their rights to clean water from rivers. 
Following are the presentations given by the speakers:
  1. Modern problems: Traditional solutions climate change/ water & food security by Rajendra Singh, Tarun Bharat Sangh
  2. Safeguarding rivers and watersheds by Leo F. Saldanha, Environment Support Group
  3. Overview of Ganga river pollution by R M Bhardwaj, Central Pollution Control Board
  4. Noyyal river pollution excreta happens by T Mohan, Madras High Court Appointed Commissioner
  5. Restoration and conservation of Chite Lui by Rochamliana, Zoram Research Foundation
  6. The Musi river: A case for resource recovery? by Priyanie Amerasinghe, IWMI, Hyderabad

Session 8: Clean up - Decentralised sewage management as an alternative to pipes, pumps and plants

This session showed various examples of the ways and techniques adopted by companies to clean water sources. The range of products used to clean water bodies have shown good results and have also highlighed the possible growth of the market in this sector. The speakers of this session were Sandeep Joshi, H S Shankar, Sampath Kumar, Stanzin Tsephal, Mamta Tomar, Varun Arora, Manu Bhatnagar and Sanjay Aggarwal.
Following are the presentations given by the speakers:
  1. Green bridges-ecotechnological solutions for the basin governance by Sandeep Joshi, Shrishti Eco-Research Institute
  2. SBT technology of IIT Bombay by H S Shankar
  3. Turning sewage into resource by T Sampath Kumar, Nualgi Nanobiotech
  4. DEWATS cost and its determinants a case study from India by Tsephel S K Nair
  5. Restoration of Mithi river by Mamta Tomar, JM Enviro Pvt Ltd
  6. Threats and remedies for urban wetlands by Manu Bhatnagar, INTACH
  7. Bio‐remediation: an ecological alternative to treat wastewater by Sanjay Aggarwal, Clover Organics Pvt Ltd

Session 9: Brown gold or plain excreta-Is sewage a resource

To consider excreta as a sewage or as a resource was at the heart of dicussion for this session. It brought to light the various initiatives that have made the best use of grey water. Further it also drew attention to the factors that should be kept in mind while reusing sewage. Examples of where these practises have been successfully implemented were illustrated from various case studies. The speakers of this session were Ashish Mathur, Alka Palrecha, Dhrubajyoti, Anand Madhavan, Nandini Sharma, Rahul Bakare and Ramani Iyer.
Following are the presentations given by the speakers:

Closing plenary: The future does not have to be dry

To conclude the conference, the director of CSE highlighted that the aim of the conference was to build a network of people who can influence the execution of programmes to improve water and sewage management. It also aimed to create a network of lake and river warriors who have worked to save these water bodies from encroachment, pollution and eventual destruction.
Sunita Narain pointed out that the long negelected problem of sewage has been acquiring attention among various groups, through such conferences, which in itself is a positive step. However the challenge remains as to how to move forward. Though there are different technical options that help in cleaning the water bodies, the cost incurred to do this remains a big concern. For this there is an urgent need to come up with a proper pricing system as well as a robust monitoring system. Continous efforts should be made to treat polluted and waste water using both conventional and newly emerging technologies so that the recycled water can be used for secondary and tertiary purposes. Finally, an earnest appeal was made to the young  entrepreneurs to not focus only on making profits but to also come up with ideas and solutions that are sustainable and practical.
Click here to know more about the conference.