Photographer: Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Water Woe Signals $17 Billion Opportunity for India Recycler

  • India’s waste-water recycling market in focus after drought
  • Vishvaraj Infrastructure sees industry using treated supplies

India’s water crisis is set to spur the development of a market for recycling plants that could eventually be worth at least $17 billion, driven in part by demand from industries, according to Vishvaraj Infrastructure Ltd.

The nation’s largest cities produce 38 billion liters of waste water daily, all of which will have to be recycled eventually, Chairman Arun Lakhani said. While that requires major investment in treatment facilities, the government will need to provide sufficiently attractive waste water contracts to realize the full potential of the market, he said.

QuickTake Drought

“Treated sewage can become the most secure source of water for industry in future,” Nagpur, Maharashtra-based Lakhani said in a May 13 interview. “Thermal power plants use a lot of water and they’re the ideal candidates for this.”

One of the country’s worst droughts in decades is set to ease from June if predictions of good monsoon rains prove accurate. Even so, the parched conditions underscore the longer-term challenge from depleting groundwater as well as surface-water disruption. Shortages threaten to increase flash-points between industry, agriculture and the 1.3 billion people in India needing drinking water.

Coal Plants

More than 40 percent of about 186 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity in India could switch to using recycled waste water in the next five years because of federal government rules, Lakhani said. Treatment projects worth at least $8 billion could arise during this time, he said.

Money is the major obstacle to expanding municipal recycling. Metering is patchy in India, and officials are under pressure to keep tariffs affordable as most people live on less than $3.10 per day. Annual sales of treated water are only about $1.6 billion currently in Asia’s No. 3 economy, consultancy TechSci Research Pvt. estimates.

Four charts illustrate the water sector opportunity in India:

  • India’s annual freshwater withdrawal exceeds that of even China, the world’s most-populous country:
  • When per capita availability drops below 1,700 cubic meters annually, the situation is described as water stressed. By 2050, India won’t be far from the 1,000 cubic meter mark below which water scarcity begins:
  • Two straight poor monsoon seasons in 2014 and 2015 left India this year with one of its worst droughts since independence. A heatwave exacerbated the problem:
  • Both Veolia Environnement SA and Suez Environnement Co., two top European water companies, said last year that they are looking to expand in India. Chennai-based VA Tech Wabag Ltd., which builds treatment plants, has climbed 130 percent in the past five years. Vishvaraj said it’s talking with overseas companies about jointly pursuing the water opportunity in India:
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE