Free flow

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Currently, industry guzzles about 22 per cent of the total freshwater used worldwide. By 2025, this figure is expected to go up to 24 per cent, says the World Bank’s World Water Development Report 2001.

In India, of all the categories of water use, industrial water use is rising the fastest. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), water consumption by industry accounts for about 8 per cent of the total national use. By 2050, industry will need almost four times the water it uses now.

But will it get this water? Highly unlikely. Water is already a source of conflict between communities and industry. In December 2002, the Coca-Cola plant in the drought-prone Perumatty village in Kerala’s Palakkad district, faced serious opposition from the local community and politicians for depleting and polluting drinking water resources. The growing scarcity of water is also taking its toll on economic development. A recent study (Investment Climate in India, 2003) by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the World Bank has found that scarcity of water in Tamil Nadu is proving to be a major infrastructural bottleneck and a hurdle for investments in the state.

With more clamour for the resource every year, the future presents a grim picture. The challenge for Indian industry is, therefore, to stay a step ahead of the crisis by becoming water-efficient.

Water and the Indian industry
Industry’s use of water acts as a double-edged sword: it puts immense pressure on local water resources, and it devastates the environment through wastewater discharge. Essentially used as input, mass and heat transfer media and for other miscellaneous purposes, a very small fraction of the water is actually consumed. About 90 per cent of the water used in major water-consuming industries is ultimately discharged as wastewater. According to the CPCB, in 2001, Indian industry consumed 40 km 3 of water and discharged 30.31 km 3 of wastewater. The issue of water use in industries, therefore, has to be addressed within these two interlinked paradigms.

Industry does not only use up a lot of water, it does so in an extremely inefficient manner. Compared to globally acceptable standards, the water consumption efficiency (water consumed to produce a unit product) of Indian industry is dismal (see table below: Guzzlers Inc). Thermal power plants (TPPs) are the major consumers, accounting for a staggering 88 per cent of the total water consumed by industry (see table below: Water use). In a scenario where the availability of water is dipping alarmingly, this is a recipe for disaster.

Water use
Lion’s share: power plants

Sectors Water
(per cent)
Thermal power plants 82,194 87.87
Engineering 4,722 5.05
Pulp and paper 2,118 2.26
Textiles (cotton) 1,940 2.07
Iron and steel 1,208 1.29
Sugar 509 0.54
Fertilisers 456 0.49
Distilleries 172 0.18
Organic chemicals 114 0.12
Others 111 0.12

Note: *Estimates based on wastewater discharge, assuming wastewater volume is 90 per cent of the water used in the industry.
Source: Water Quality in India