Around 63 million Indians do not have access to clean drinking water. But, according to an OECD study, every rupee invested in clean water can yield between Rs 4 and Rs 12 in economic returns. This is where Swajal Water comes in.
Over the last five years, Swajal, an IoT (Internet of Things) based clean drinking water system, has installed ‘Water ATMs’ in urban slums, villages, government schools, railway stations and hospitals, across 11 states.
These machines combine Swajal’s patented (and cutting-edge) technology with solar energy to provide clean water that is accessible and affordable (Rs. 1 for a 300ml glass, Rs. 3 for a 500ml bottle). On the eve of World Water Day (March 22), Sharad Kohli met up with Swajal founder Vibha Tripathi, who spoke of her hopes of reaching 1,000 stations in the next year(#1000stationsmillionlives) — currently, there are around 250, pan India.
How confident are you that Swajal’s solar-powered water purification systems can cover the whole of India?
Swajal should touch at least a million lives every day – already, we’re at 2,50,000. In every station, about 1,000 people get impacted every day, more in the summer.
And our first machine, I’m happy to say, is still functioning (in Mewat Model School, Nuh, Mewat). We want to grow and consolidate in India, and to explore new markets, and also to explore new lines of business, maybe larger systems which can cater to a complete town. We’ve received a query from Kashmir, so we’re planning to move there.
What is India’s biggest concern – lack of water or lack of clean drinking water?
It’s a no-brainer that many of the public health problems India faces can be solved by ensuring that everyone has access to clean drinking water. Lack of water may be a problem in some areas, like Rajasthan. But almost all of India gets some water, through rainfall or from rivers. Lack of clean drinking water is another issue altogether, because of pollution and over-usage. Pollution shows (up) in places like Punjab, where there is ample water but there are pesticides.
Over-harvesting shows (up) in strange fashion, such as extreme fluoride in Rajasthan, and when you go deeper into the water table, you have more arsenic, etc. Clean drinking water is very difficult to find, especially in cities. As the Ganges flows out of Rishikesh and Haridwar, each city and town pollutes it. So, by the time it reaches West Bengal, it is like a drain!
Why is it that, 70 years after Independence, access to clean drinking water remains a problem?
Quality of water has been deteriorating over the years. I was born in Independent India, and I don’t think at that time clean drinking water was an issue, even in cities.
Everybody drank from the well, or the tap. Then somewhere in the 1980s, we started having simple clay purifiers in our houses. I think that over the last one or two decades, because of population explosion, industry becoming modernised (and) rising consumption, the quality of water has become particularly bad. And water has been exploited to grow more and more cash crops. Water table is going down, pesticides have been used – misused, rather – very extensively. It’s like a petri-dish effect.