The pure water solution

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Piramal Sarvajal gets potable, safe H2O to places it’s really needed for as little as 20 paise per litre
Why would the Piramal Group, largely associated with healthcare, want to do something in the seemingly un connected space of water access and purity?
Because pure water represents the bedrock on which all health care delivery is based.When you think of it, there are so many instances of places where water ­ the pure and drinking kind should be available but isn’t. And that is how Piramal Sarvajal was conceived, around the terribly ambitious programme to provide universal potable water for all in 2008.The programme was timed not a day too soon.The more you think of it, the lack of access to potable water is the genesis of a number of modern day issues. In areas where pure water is not easily accessible, there is a question mark over food quality. In areas where water is not an arm’s length away, the one assigned to fetch it is usually the woman of the family (translating into the other problem of economic inequity and disempowerment). In areas where potable water is infrequently supplied, there is high medical expenditure with lower month-end surpluses available for reinvestment.In areas where water availability is low, the neighbourhood squabbles (over whose bucket should gain precedence) are high.These are some of the things I like about Piramal Sarvajal.

One, the programme does not profess that it knows all the answers; it partners with local entrepreneurs, corporations supporting social projects, the government and philanthropic organisations to provide local solutions (pun!). The result is that partners provide funding, while Piramal Sarvajal deploys decentralised units based on parameters like population density and local water quality.One comes with the cash, the other comes with knowledge, kickstarting implementation.

Two, the programme addresses the dearth of water not where it is most convenient, such as underserved urban pockets; instead it addresses villages, slums, schools, hospitals and public spaces.

Three, the programme has achieved some scale; it commissioned community drinking water solutions in more than 200 villages in partnership with local entrepreneurs, corporate donors and gram panchayat.

Four, the programme addresses purification in pockets where water is available; it commissioned sponsor-funded purification units in more than 70 schools (Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana and Karnataka).

Five, the programme has progressively extended to deficient urban public places, working with the government in selected resettlement areas around New Delhi where piped drinking water is simply not available and where residents are completely dependent on tankers; the result is a hub-and-spoke driven 24×7 access to safe drinking water.

Six, this is not a free hand-down; users are educated on the payback benefits of safe water access and then charged; the water revenue covers operational costs, making it possible for donor-sponsored locations to sell water for as low as 20 paise per litre (our packaged branded equivalent is available for Rs 20 per litre).

Seven, Piramal Sarvajal pioneered the remote monitoring of water purification machines and the concept of a water ATM. Through the combination of these technologies, Sarvajal not only maintains the machine and water quality but also ensures maximum uptime with the help of solarpowered water ATMs, ensuring 24×7 safe water availability regardless of power availability.

Eight, Piramal Sarvajal has commissioned a service centre to provide maintenance and community level marketing services every 20-30 units, ensuring that high uptime is not compromised by the repair technician turning up after a fortnight.

Nine, the patented technology was developed in-house; besides, the programme has emerged as a livelihood driver for about 1,000 individuals through Piramal Sarvajal water network, who earn more than their average local incomes.

The numbers are remarkable: the programme serves approximately 300,000 consumers each day through 500 plus installations across13 states.

The effect has been even more remarkable.Laxmi Devi of Laxmangarh village in Rajasthan gets 40 litres of water every day for her household of seven. Her verdict: “The present has put the power in our hands in the form of an ATM card.“

Arthritic 50-year-old Khurshid Bano of Jhunjhunu (Rajasthan) has a lot to thank Sarvajal for.The district suffers high fluoride levels in water, causing fluorosis and joint pains, weakened bones and yellowed teeth. Ever since she subscribed to Sarvajal, her pain has subsided and she saves Rs 1,500 of what was earlier being spent in medication costs each month.

Housewife Kavitaji (200 m from Sarvajal’s office in Sawda Ghevra JJ Colony) feels Sarvajal has been a life-changer. Her seven month daughter encountered severe diarrhoea resulting in a Rs 5,000 hospital bill. When the doctor wrote out a prescription, he scribbled `Sarvajal’. Kavitaji started buying 15 litres a day for the family. The family health improved; the housewife turned evangelist and convinced 11 families in the neighbourhood to subscribe as well, renaming her bylane as `Sarvajal gali.’ If only Piramal Sarvajal could take this concept to other corporations to fund drinking water unit in their own neighbourhoods…

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