‘Death toll rises to four!’ – The headline of a leading newspaper. At the first look, it might seem to be the outcome of a building collapse or a derailed local train, but as soon as we read the first few lines of the article, our illusions are demystified. The precious lives have been claimed not by an accident, but instead by diarrhoea, a disease caused by the consumption of polluted water. Unpleasant it seems, but it is indeed a cruel truth, our 65 year old country still has its people falling prey to the lack of the most basic necessity – Clean Water!
One of the major problems staring Bharat, the rural India in the face, is that of clean water. Out the Indian population of about 1.25 billion, around 700 million still lacks access to clean water. Even today, thousands fall victim to dangerous waterborne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid. In many regions, the water even contains harmful chemicals such as excess fluorides, lead and nitrates, which when consumed, lead to serious health concerns. In such pressing situations, a Water ATM or water being sold in portable cans at an extremely affordable rate, might indeed be the much required panacea.
Image: Sarvajal ATM (left) and the water treatment kiosk.
Sarvajal, meaning ‘water for all’, an initiative by Piramal Water Pvt Ltd, is one that is targeted towards rural India’s water problem. Using various innovative ideas they are making an effort to provide clean water to the rural Indian. One among these efforts is the Sarvajal Water ATM also known as ‘the safe water kiosk’. The first of its kind, it gives its customers access to clean water 24×7 using a pre-paid card (or coins) at a cheap rate of 30 paise per litre. These pre-paid cards can be recharged using mobile phones as easily as we recharge the talk-time for our mobiles. As of today, around 17 such ATMs have been installed and are operational in the villages of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Considering the expenses a family might incur with its family members falling sick owing to consumption of unsafe water, the rural Indian today does not mind paying 30 paise per litre for a healthy living.
Now, let us see how this works! These water ATMs have an unmanned transaction console connected to a water tank and water dispenser. The water tank has three crucial modules attached to it. A quality check module, that treats the water and checks its quality; a quantity check module, that keeps an account of the water being purified and dispensed; and a flow-control module that regulates the flow of water through the entire system. These three modules and the console can be attached to any water tank, the one on the roof of a store or another one connected to a water harvesting model, making the design adaptable to every scenario. The ultimate result is clean water. The water treatment is done using the Reverse Osmosis (RO) and Ultraviolet (UV) technology, unlike the ozonisation process used by the bigger water treatment companies. Also, the ATM operates on solar energy, thus saving on electricity expenses too. It is on account of the cost saved by avoiding ozonisation, other treatment processes, advertising and distribution activities, that Sarvajal is able to provide clean water at such a cheap price.
Image: Sarvajal 20 litre water cans
Sarvajal, a for-profit organisation established in 2008, envisioned an innovation that would facilitate sustainable living for the rural Indian. Thus, the franchisee-based model was adopted. Having procured a franchisee at a nominal rate, the local entrepreneur then runs the business, keeping 60 per cent of the revenue for himself. On an average, if a franchisee caters to the needs of 175 households a day, he can earn up to Rs.20,000 a month. Apart from Gujarat and Rajasthan, Sarvajal also has its franchisees in Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where the Water ATMs are yet to be installed, but clean water is sold in 20 litre cans. As of today, there are 154 rural franchisees and about 86,000 people drink clean water supplied by Sarvajal.
An exemplary disruptive innovation it is! Apart from giving the rural Indian access to the most basic necessity, it also provides him with a supplementary income. We can now be rest assured that the toll of Indians falling prey to water borne diseases would fall, at least to some extent. Thanks to viable options like Sarvajal!
By: Rashmi Udayshankar (MMS 2012-14)