VIT Business School
Vol 6 Issue 17, Apr 24 - 30, 2015
    Citizen Reporters      |   | Submit Story
Green WarriorsSocial EntrepreneursUnsung Heroes

An entrepreneurial venture with no help from government officials is a big hit in Alwar

   By  Ankur Paliwal
  
04 May 2015
Posted 11-Jan-2013
Vol 4 Issue 2

As dawn breaks, two queues start forming at the only petrol pump in Lakshmangarh, a small town in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. One, obviously, is of people waiting to get their vehicles’ fuel tanks refilled. The other is in front of a simple metal box mounted on the petrol pump’s boundary wall. People like to call it ATM machine. But instead of dispensing cash, it gives them clean drinking water.

On her turn, 26-year-old Sapna Jatav takes out a plastic card and holds it in front of a sensor of the water ATM. The sensor reads her card and shows a balance of Rs 130. Jatav places a 10-litre container below a pipe on the water ATM and presses a button. Reverse Osmosis (RO) processed water starts flowing from the pipe. Jatav releases the button when the container is full. The machine calculates the quantity of water dispensed and deducts the amount from her account. One litre costs 50 paisa.

A customer using the water ATM (Photo: Ankur Paliwal)

The technological initiative, powered by solar energy, is changing the lives of many in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Earlier, people depended on the saline municipal water or groundwater that has high fluoride content.

“Water was not fit even for cooking,” says homemaker Rekha Atolia. “Tea would get curdled. Dal would not cook if baking soda was not added to it. When relatives would come, we would buy bottled water,” she says.

A study conducted last year by Jhunjhunu-based JJT University states that fluoride content in Alwar groundwater is between 2 parts per million (ppm) and 7 ppm, much beyond WHO’S permissible limit of 1 ppm. High fluoride in water is responsible for increasing cases of renal failure in the district, says the study published in Global Journal of Pharmaceutical Research in September 2012.

How it all began

The technology is the brainchild of Piramal Foundation, the corporate social responsibility branch of global business conglomerate Piramal group.

Dharamveer Singh, sales head of Sarvajal, the company started by Piramal Foundation, shares the journey of water ATM. “In 2008, we were brainstorming possible technological solutions to the problem of contaminated water. We also wanted to reduce the drudgery of women who travel long distances to fetch water,” Singh reminisces. Sarvajal started with door-to-door supply of RO water.

An RO plant was set up in Jhunjhunu’s Bagar village. But problems started cropping up soon. “Different people would give different delivery times. With little staff this was difficult. Also, door-to-door delivery involved manual labour, which we wanted to reduce,” says Singh. Another problem was of delayed payments.

The new model has pre-paid system that ensures zero debt. To solve these issues, Sarvajal thought of water ATM and pre-paid cards. V1 has a water tank kept locked above the machine. The tank is connected to the RO plant, which uses groundwater for processing.

The plant can process 1,000 litres in an hour. Processed water is carried to the tank using booster pumps. V1 has three buttons—of 1 litre, 5 litres and 10 litres. People could scan the card on the ATM’s sensor and press the button, depending on their water requirement.

The problem with V1 was that many a time a lot of water would get wasted because there was no standard size of containers that people brought with them. So, if a customer pressed the five-litre button and the container’s size was 4.5 litres, half litre would go waste.

There was a social problem as well. One big village in Rajasthan has two or three smaller villages, called dhani, based on the nature of the community. If water ATM was installed in one dhani, people of other dhanis would object.

The advanced model of water ATM took care of the two issues. To avoid clashes, the new model is strategically placed so that it can be accessed by people of all communities. The machine itself is simpler with just one button.

The technology uses GSM, or Global System for Mobile communications. It helps Singh keep track of all the 20 machines installed while sitting at his office in Jaipur. A software called Soochak informs Singh on his mobile phone of damage in any machine. For example, if the percentage of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), a kind of water impurity, crosses the permissible limit, the RO plant would automatically stop functioning and Soochak would alert the operator. Singh claims the system is so sophisticated that he is alerted even if a pipe starts to rust. Every machine is also checked properly once a month, he says.

Sarvajal claims to recharge the wastewater produced during the RO process. “Groundwater here has high TDS content. Processing leaves 50 per cent water with TDS content,” says Singh. This water is sent back to the aquifers through recharge wells.

D C Garg, hydrologist at the district groundwater department, says this process may increase the TDS content in groundwater. But Anuj Sharma, chief operating officer of Sarvajal, argues that only 0.5 per cent of the extracted water is used for drinking. Most is used for agriculture, shows groundwater extraction data.

The operation of water ATMs is managed through local partners. “The idea is to promote local entrepreneurs,” says Sharma. In Lakshmangarh, petrol pump owner Abhir Modi manages the operations. So far, he has around 550 customers who either come to the ATM or get water delivered at their doorsteps.

“We have only one water ATM in the village, so people who live far prefer to get it delivered at their homes,” says Modi. The charge for home delivery is 70 paisa. Modi sells around 700 litres of water every day. In summers, the requirement goes up to 1,000 litres. “It is better to drink clean water than spend money on medical treatment later,” says Atolia. Sarvajal now plans to set up one more machine in the town.

It is a profitable business for the company as well. The total cost of setting up the RO plant with the machine is around Rs 5 lakh. Franchisees pay 40 per cent of their earnings to the company. If the franchisees own the machine, they pay 20 per cent of the earnings to the company. A unit breaks even when it serves 125 families with 20 litres each daily. The company provides maintenance, advertising support and community drive.

“We do not say that we provide the best solution, but this is the best we can do in the existing circumstances,” says Sharma. Surprisingly, the district collector and other officials in the groundwater department know nothing of water ATMs. With no government initiative to tackle the problem of contaminated water, such an entrepreneurial venture is a big hit.

By arrangement with Down to Earth
 



Print  |  Email  | 
 Share   


You might also like:

Development tale

A World Bank Project has worked wonders in about 600 villages in Himachal Pradesh, where villagers are earning more, sending their children to school and have set up a milk cooling facility

Read More

Rahul’s man

Rahul Gandhi’s handpicked man Harshvardhan Shyam (32), who is contesting in the UP assembly election as a Congress candidate, has done a doctorate on UP politics from JNU, says Sharat Pradhan

Read More
Stories on Innovations & Innovators
THE LEAD STAR
adyar bakery
 
Mentoring Tamil Nadu



Popular Stories

On the wheels

A well-oiled transport company with 1300 vehicles and 4000 employees, Parveen Travels started with just one cab in 1980. Its founder A Afzal, in a free-wheeling chat with P C Vinoj Kumar, says that he has no other interests outside business

Read More

The flying angel

Straddling a job in the skies and a mission on the ground, Captain Indraani Singh demonstrates how one person can be the change through spreading education, empowerment and employment among those who need it the most. Partho Burman reports 

Read More

Giving back

A group of first generation graduates are mentoring rural school students, who are also first generation learners in Tamil Nadu, by imparting life skills and building their confidence, through an NGO, Vazhai. P C Vinoj Kumar meets the mentors 

Read More

Cool retreats

As summer sets in and the quest to find a salubrious getaway begins, if it is the well known beaten names that cross your mind, Renuka Singh suggests seven quiet and offbeat hill stations that are not too far from places that you might know

Read More

Educator extraordinaire

When Rajesh Kumar Sharma went to see how Metro Rail work was progressing near the Yamuna station, he realized that poor children had no school to attend. So he set up ‘Under the Bridge School’. Partho Burman meets the educator extraordinaire

Read More

Green cobblers

Inspired by a man making sandals out of used tyres in the US, Jay Rege and Jothsna came to India to turn eco-conscious shoemakers, launching ‘Paaduks’. The social entrepreneurs also share their profit with their cobblers, says Rohan Potdar

Read More

Sandy wonders

If the word Goa evokes just images of raves, read on, you may end up in the land of sandy wonders soon. For, Renuka Singh’s list of the top 10 beaches informs us that Goa has something on offer for everyone, including those seeking solitude

Read More

Saving girls

Her first attempt to save a 12-year-old girl from the clutches of an abusive father failed. But that propelled Renu Singh to turn a crusader for gender justice and rescue about 3,800 girls and women in over three decades, says Partho Burman

Read More

Milky boom

The success of Milky Mist, a dairy company, is a story linked to the big dreams of T Sathish Kumar, a class 8 drop out. P C Vinoj Kumar tells us how a 16-year-old turned his father’s floundering business around by giving it a new identity

Read More

Missing Nobel

Winner of many awards for his social work in Mumbai slums, Jockin Arputham missed the Nobel Peace in 2014. But for people whose life he changed through his dedication, he is indeed an ‘arputham’ (miracle, in Tamil), says Kavita Kanan Chandra

Read More
 
Kudos image

"The Weekend Leader not only gives a glimpse of the better things happening around us but also tells stories of people who made it possible.”

Ajay Chaturvedi, Entrepreneur More Kudos
 
Archives  |   Columns  |   About Us  |   Contact Us  |   Feedback  |   Response  |     |   Cheers!  |   Support Us  |   Friends of Positive Journalism
© Copyright The Weekend Leader.com, 2010. All rights reserved.