Tirupur water supply and sanitation project - an impediment to sustainable water management?

The paper highlights the case of Tirupur water supply and sanitation scheme and sheds light on new and emerging legal arrangements in promoting public-private partnerships in water sector

This paper published on the International Environmental Law Research Centre (IELRC) website examines the reasons behind the new project and the institutional, financial and legal aspects of the Tirupur PPP.

It also examines important legal issues such as the right to water, competing interests in water, financing of projects, waste water management and the environmental consequences of the PPP. More particularly, it questions the wisdom of planning a water supply project that seeks to prioritize the needs of a polluting industry over the basic water needs of the region.

The New Tirupur Area Development Corporation Limited (NTADCL) is the first public private partnership, set up in 1995 primarily to supply industrial water to Tirupur, a major export centre for knitwear, in India. This water supply and sewerage project is also the first project to be structured on a commercial format; first concession by a state government to a public limited company to draw raw water for domestic and industrial uses and to collect revenues; the first index-based user charges and direct cost recovery for urban environmental services.

This case study highlights that the scheme, in effect, has a direct bearing on the efforts to ensure recycling of waste water and 'zero effluents discharge' and in turn, the broader agenda of sustainable water management and conservation. It must be noted that though the bulk of the water supplied under this project is for industrial purposes, the scheme also supplies water for domestic use to limited urban and rural populace. Further, this case study seeks to examine the functioning of the water supply scheme - both domestic and industrial, and the new and emerging legal arrangements in promoting public-private partnerships, in the water sector.

The study finds that the success of the Tirupur PPP project depends entirely on the offtake of the water by the industries and indirectly, it actually discourages water recycling through full treatment of wastewater. Water is a precious resource and the emphasis ought to be on sustainable use and conservation. The present design of the project, on the contrary, encourages further expansion of the water market and copious use through discounted pricing strategies.There is a need to limit consumption, fix higher responsibility on the polluters and prioritize equitable distribution of the resource.

The paper argues that the Tirupur Water Supply and Sanitation project rthus epresents a classic case of reductionist engineering, sidelining sustainable water use planning and conservation efforts.

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