Wastewater treatment and reuse practices are limited in India despite the known benefits of preventing water resources pollution and contributing to sustainable production and consumption systems. In a study ‘Perceived drivers and barriers in the governance of wastewater treatment and reuse in India: Insights from a two-round Delphi study’ by Lena Breitenmoser et al the perceived key drivers and barriers to wastewater treatment and reuse governance are identified.
The study published in journal ‘Resources, Conservation and Recycling’ indicates that the most significant driver for wastewater treatment and water reuse is persistent water scarcity that necessitates diversification to alternative water supplies.
In contrast, the most significant barriers are the lack of enforcement of pollution monitoring and control, the lack of an umbrella directive for integrated water resources management, and insufficient collaboration between responsible governmental organizations, central and state water authorities.
Given the absence of central guidelines, only a few Indian states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat or Punjab have adopted effective governance structures. These states showcase that defined reuse standards can create successful wastewater treatment and reuse practices but require target-based regulations which are enforced and regularly monitored and financing mechanisms for their long-term operation.
The new effluent discharge standards by the National Green Tribunal, the government support programmes, and increasing water scarcity in many parts of India will supposedly drive innovative wastewater treatment and reuse structures.
The study indicates that efforts are needed to develop technology guiding frameworks following the fit-for-purpose principle and that strengthening institutional and monitoring capacity is crucial to increase confidence in the quality of recovered water resources, create demand, and ultimately safeguard human health and the environment.
Though there are certain policies, laws and programmes by the Central Government and State Governments that endorse wastewater treatment and reuse, the availability of clear guidelines and specific standards with a defined implementation framework for wastewater treatment and reuse is lacking.
There is the need to dovetail existing water and wastewater policies and programmes into a National Water Framework as an umbrella of general principles governing water issues by the Central Government, the State Governments and the local governing bodies. This should lead the way for essential legislation on wastewater governance in the entire country.
Most utilities cannot recover the costs of treatment from the farming sector re-using wastewater for irrigation unless high-value cash crops are cultivated or there is enough government price support. An effective water pricing mechanism is required, together with a circular economy approach to wastewater, to help reduce and/or recover treatment costs.
Besides these, clear target-based regulations, defined national standards of reuse water quality, as well as wastewater safety planning and risk mitigation are imperative interventions for stepping up the water reuse in India. Core drivers to increase the reuse of wastewater are the increasing unavailability of conventional water sources and the better quality of reclaimed water as a result of compliance with more stringent wastewater standards. Several industries and bulk water users will need to look towards wastewater as an economically viable option to meet their water requirements. Hence, treated wastewater should be cost-competitive compared to alternative options available to industries.
The study shows that policy and regulatory interventions and government support programmes to increase wastewater treatment infrastructure can create successful business models for wastewater treatment and reuse but need effective monitoring, enforcement and follow-up at all governance levels (central, national and local governing bodies).
Recommendations for future governance of wastewater treatment and reuse in India:
- Target-based regulations, defined national reuse standards for treated sewage and effective enforcement strategies need to be developed.
- Policy and guiding frameworks need to establish detailed guidance on sewage treatment and reuse technologies (fit-for-purpose treatment).
- Effective financing mechanisms (funds, taxes, tariffs) that permit sufficient cost-recovery for long-term operation and maintenance of sewage treatment infrastructure should be established, and
- Institutional and monitoring capacity needs to be strengthened and engagement and collaboration of key stakeholders tackled to increase acceptance of waste-recycled products.
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