02 June 2020

Table of Contents for Cover Story

Cover Story

Cleaning up India


The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the national movement for public cleanliness recently launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while being a long awaited attack on the soaring mountains of non biodegradable trash building up across the country’s urban and rural landscape, also presents a huge business opportunity for players of the Cleantech industry.



Sometime in the early-1990s during the course of an interview this writer had asked Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw, a hypothetical question as to how he would have expected the Indian Army to deal with a Pakistani invasion. The old warrior had without a moment’s hesitation snapped, “I would simply ask the boys to line up along the border and pee – and the enemy would be swept away by the tidal wave.”


It is not difficult to view that comment as braggadocio induced by spirits – or to those more charitable, the chutzpah of a general going over the top after a resounding victory in battle.

In Circa 2014, only a fool would be convinced of the appropriateness of such sweeping statements. For not only is the neighbour on the other side of the border impossible to flush away with a post zip pulldown act, there is a bigger threat for New Delhi to contend with from a domestic enemy who shows no signs of retreating: a constantly growing monster of an unclean mess created by a billion plus men, women and children across the country.

Indeed, India today sits on mounds and rivers of garbage and filth – and this has absolutely nothing to do with the army from the other side of the fence. As early as 1964, VS Naipaul, in what seems like a takeoff from Winston Churchill’s wartime speech, wrote, “Indians defecate on the beaches; they defecate on the hills; they defecate on the river banks; they defecate on the streets; they never look for cover.”


Fifty years after that assessment very little seems to have changed.

Witness the following statistics: Close to 600 million Indians, or 48 per cent of the country’s population, defecates in the open. This is against 15 per cent in Afghanistan; 8 per cent in the sub Saharan African country of Congo – and hold your breath, a niggardly 3 per cent in neighbouring Bangladesh which our very own Sam and his valiant men liberated in December 1971.

What further defies explanation is that while the nation expends up to $26 billion on food, barely $200 million is spent on sanitation.  More than 68.8 million tonnes of trash is generated by urban India alone; the plastic waste littered each day across the country is in excess of 6000 tonnes; to add to the environmental degradation is the fact that more than 78 per cent of the sewage remains untreated and is disembogued into water bodies such as ponds, lakes, rivers and ends up seeping into the soil.

Such extremes of filth accumulation speak volumes of Indian sanitary best practices, if it can be called that. The result is there for all to see. The open defecation and lack of waste disposal has led to poor national health – as seen from widespread incidence of diseases like encephalitis, diarrhea, malnutrition, growth impairments in children – and consequent loss of productivity, with as much as 6.4 per cent of the country’s GDP being directed towards medical expenses. According to an assessment by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme each dollar spent on sanitation leads to a saving of nine dollars in health, education and economic development.

A proper sewerage system is virtually non-existent across most Indian urban agglomerations thanks mainly to the lack of treatment facilities and inadequate water supply. Such is the irony that the call of telephone assumes greater importance in India than the call of nature – there are more people with cellphones for communication than toilets for defecation.

Thanks to such misplaced priorities a study conducted by the World Bank’s South Asia and Sanitation Unit has shown that India stands to lose up to Rs.40 billion due to poor sanitation facilities. Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder, Sulabh International, an NGO working in the sanitation space, which has constructed tens of thousands of home and public toilets across the country, says, “While the government’s intention of constructing toilets in every household and school is very commendable the challenges are huge. The agencies building sanitation facilities must be made to contribute towards their maintenance for at least a year.

Such is the threat hanging over the country it is now being predicted that by 2047, about 1400 sq km, or an area equivalent to that of the Delhi Metropolitan region, would be needed just to accommodate municipal waste!

Cynics – and there would be many – will doubtless point to the political opportunism and the irony inherent in the timing of the launch of the new Clean India drive by the Modi government. It has taken well over six and half decades after the death of the Father of the Nation, a man for whom cleanliness was only next to godliness, for the minders of the country to formally recognise the extent of the dangers posed by the sanitation deficit and flag off a plan of action. Like India’s Mangalyaan mission – which many scoffed at first as difficult to achieve for a poor country – which in its spectacular maiden triumph  achieved the near impossible, Clean India as a national objective too must be given its due.

Three years ago the UPA government had launched the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, which could well be said to be the forerunner of the latest mass movement. Modi’s edition of Clean India is however even more ambitious both in terms of its publicity reach – thrust for national awareness – and financial allocations.


A whopping Rs.60,000 crore will now be expended per annum on the Clean India programme over the next five years. What the new campaign does is open up huge business opportunities for players from the construction and clean tech space as India moves into correction course. The Union Urban Development Ministry, which is directly responsible for the implementation of the programme in urban areas, has identified a plan with four components – individual toilets, public toilets, community toilets for poor in slums and solid waste management.

Shankar Aggarwal, Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, declares, “In the next 5 years we will be able to achieve our targets which is of cleaning the entire country.”



Despite such happy bureaucratic pronouncements of accomplishing Swachh Bharat by the declared deadline of Gandhi Jayanti, 2019, it doesn’t require elephantiasis of the imagination to understand that Cleaning India is truly a monumental task.

Dr Anupam Kumar Singh, Director, Institute of Engineering and Technology, JK Lakshmipat University, Jaipur, who has worked extensively in the field of water and environment both in India and abroad, is led to comment, “It is important to have a dream to get anywhere. I am not a Modi fan but the Clean India campaign launched by the Prime Minister is a nice beginning but there would be important provisos for the vision to become a reality. For success to come it requires mindsets to be changed, standards and procedures to be in place and also long term implementation and commitment on the part of all stakeholders. What is interesting now is that technologically advanced countries with experience in such clean up operations are now observing India more keenly in view of the huge business opportunities the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan presents for their companies in India’s sanitation, cleantech and environment space. We need as much support and collaboration as we can get.”
Veritably there is now evidence on the ground of international interest to India’s ambitious clean up exercise. At IFAT India 2014, the three day trade exhibition organised by Messe Munchen in Mumbai – where a range of world class products and services related to the environment and cleantech space were on display – as many as 15 countries including Germany, Switzeraland, USA, UK, Austria, Great Britain and Italy participated.  The Clean India campaign and the Ganga rejuvenation mission, in particular has found a massive groundswell of appreciation and support from representatives of various countries.


Gerhard Gerritzen, Deputy Managing Director, Messe München GmbH, said, "From an environmental technology perspective I see great potential in India particularly with the new government’s strong emphasis on achieving cleanliness across the country.”


Michael Steiner, German Ambassador to India, who was present at the exhibition, was led to say, “Germany extends its full support to the initiatives taken up by the Government of India.  The Clean India campaign is a brilliant idea and an outstanding example of thinking big. While helping to achieve national cleanliness it will stimulate India's economic growth which will pull millions out of poverty and improve living standards." 

The envoy further underscored the fact that India was neither the first nor the only country to face such challenges and that it could draw from the German experience of successfully cleaning up the Rhine which once used to be toxic and biologically dead. "Major clean-up efforts of all stakeholders in Germany have generated technical know-how and decades-old experience. We would like to share these with India, together with state-of-the-art solutions developed by German companies. With increased momentum towards green growth and a clean environment there will be huge opportunities for Indian, German and other international enterprises.

It is precisely the view of India as an opportunity zone that has led the Frankfurt based Grasshopper Investments, a company designing private financing concepts and innovative business models in the water sector in emerging markets, to engage with Indian firms to support viable and sustainable projects.

Mareen Schneider, Managing Director and Founder, Grasshopper Investments GmbH, says, “We have been very closely watching the moves of the Indian government in regard to development of infrastructure in the water sector and we are extremely encouraged by the possibilities offered by the Clean India campaign. As far as our role here is concerned investments in water infrastructure are to this day mainly financed through state funding and development banks worldwide. We are among the few companies that raise private capital for water projects. We are sure we will soon find great opportunities here.”



Adds Andreas Kaspar, Director, ANI Water Solutions Pvt Ltd, a Swiss company which offers ultraviolet irradiation technologies to disinfect and treat fluids and surfaces, “We are involved with a number of projects in India and we see great possibilities arising from the campaign. The important qualification is that the momentum is sustained.” 



No sooner than the Prime Minister inaugurated the drive many of the public sector undertakings joined the Clean India campaign by pledging support and financial aid as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. PSUs under the Power Ministry, for instance, will build 100,000 toilets in schools within a year. The state-run Airports Authority of India (AAI) too while launching its cleanliness drive at its facilities in various cities has identified 765 schools in 37 districts of the country where it proposes to construct toilets.

What is very heartening is the enthusiasm with which India Inc has come on board. Leading corporates like Reliance, Bharti Foundation, Tata Consultancy Services, Adani Group, Aditya Birla Group, ITC, HUL and Dabur have expressed their willingness to offer support to the campaign, some even pledging large amounts from their CSR funs for the cleanliness cause. While TCS and Bharti Foundation have offered Rs.100 crore for school toilets, the Adanis will be expanding the scope of their sanitation mission to states outside Gujarat like Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Punjab. Not to be outdone the Aditya Birla Group is looking to construct 10,000 toilets in various states while ITC will be contributing to an equal number while FMCG major HUL has outlined plans to set up 24,000 facilities by next year.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), meanwhile, is organising the 'Mission -Sanitation of Schools’ drive under which it will work with companies to construct toilets across the country. The industry body has set up a mechanism to create awareness and encourage industry participation through its network of 64 offices in India, spread across 26 states and two union territories. In the first phase of this programme which is by the end of fiscal year 2015-16, CII will undertake the construction of 10,000 toilets. Following that, based on the feedback and assessments on the ground, it plans to announce targets for the second phase. Current estimates place the per unit cost of construction of a toilet block in the vicinity of Rs.2 to 5 lakh depending on availability of water and other facilities.

To implement the movement at the grassroots level the government has planned to provide Rs.20 lakh per annum to over 2,47,000 village panchayats across the country to improve sanitation. The money will be utilised from a fund of Rs.196,000 crore announced by the government for the Clean India Mission over a five-year period. While the Urban Development Ministry will allocate Rs.62,000 crore for cleaning towns across the country, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation will reportedly spend Rs.1,34,000 crore for the programme.

Admittedly while the sheer absence of toilets will engage a large part of the government’s attention if only for the attendant bad publicity it has attracted in 67 years of independence, urban local bodies across India will also be eyeing the prospect of facilities being introduced for the treatment of municipal and industrial waste water. The Mannheim, Germany, headquartered Bilfinger Water Technologies is a global leader in the supply of systems, components and services in the area of water and wastewater technology. It offers a comprehensive range of competences in water and waste management, separating solids from liquids and gases and vacuum technology which put together provide complete solutions for its customers in local government and in the industrial sector. The company has a factory in Khatraj near the Gujarat capital Gandhinagar which manufactures cleaning equipment used in waste water treatment plants.

Asif Sikwani, Country Head, Global Business Unit Water Treatment, Bilfinger Water Technologies (India) Private Ltd, reveals, “We plan to add 2 or 3 more Bilfinger products in India which are already available in Germany and other parts of Europe. We believe the industry will prosper if the projects adhere to a strict implementation schedule, even the tendering and award process has to be compressed, and the right players given an opportunity to participate.”



Roots Multiclean Ltd (RMCL), a leader in the Indian cleaning equipment manufacturing industry, appears to be gung ho about the prospects, “It is imperative to keep homes, workplaces common areas clean. We see a huge potential for sweepers, scrubbers, vacuum cleaners and general cleaning tools. We will certainly provide our best possible support to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan,” says Varun Karthikeyan R, Managing Director, Roots Multiclean Ltd.  


Companies like Environmental Dynamics International (EDI) which specialises in the development and application of advanced technology aeration and biological treatment solutions – it has supported industries such as pulp and paper, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, petroleum, oil and gas – is also betting big on business prospects. The company in India has offered its services for organisations such as the Delhi Jal Board, HPCL and others, is also expected to play a significant role in operations to rid the Ganga and other water bodies across the country of pollutants. The company which currently imports membranes from the US while developing the rest of its products in India, will be setting up its new manufacturing facility in Goa soon. Sudhir Gupta Managing Director, Environmental Dynamics International, says, “Our diffused aerators are required for various industries so the possible canvas of our operations in the new India Cleanup campaign is expected to be very big. We will have a lot of role to play especially in sewage treatment plants.”
With water, natural gas, steam, mineral oil, chemicals being some of the fluids that will have to be measured day in and day out as India looks to bring in a measure of control in its natural and industrial environment, companies like Endress+Hauser, a global leader in measurement instrumentation, services and solutions for industries such as chemicals, petrochemicals, food and  beverage, oil and gas, water and wastewater, power and energy and life sciences, sees the cleanliness programme as a big opportunity to consolidating its business across India. Says Sunil Bhor, AGM, Sales Water Waste Water, Endress + Hauser (India) Pvt Ltd., “We have a wealth of experience in the area of municipal waste water treatment. With the help of online instrumentation plants one can optimise the treatment process as well as raise plant efficiencies.”   

Greater water demands and the increasing problems of environmental pollution as well as of industrial and municipal waste disposal call for an integrated approach of total environment management. Solid waste is a major area of concern. A huge chunk of it is burnt, thrown in rivers or simply dumped on vacant land. With cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi, Chennai and Bengaluru growing up beyond their former limits – and in the process swallowing up their former satellites – the once clean rural areas have become the new national wastelands in the absence of a sustainable plan to clear them of trash – much of it poisonous for the environment. On an average an Indian city generates around 2500 tons of waste every day. In recent times however several urban local bodies like municipal corporations have taken the public private partnership approach to solid waste collection and disposal. Another positive sign is the formation of citizen's collective across various parts of India which, while playing the role of pressure groups, are also supporting municipal corporations in sanitation issues. 

Ion Exchange (India) Ltd. offers a complete portfolio of advanced environmental solutions and services for industrial, infrastructure and municipal applications – the company pioneered the production of world class ion exchange resins, commissioned India’s first reverse osmosis element plant in Halol, Gujarat and is a major supplier of water treatment plants to the country’s industrial sector – is looking to contribute majorly to the national cleanliness effort. Ajay Popat, Director, Ion Exchange Waterleau Ltd, is led to say “I think the campaign is a notable step towards making our cities and our communities clean from litter to begin with. As far as my company is concerned we would like to be a No 1 solution provider for any step required to be taken in terms of managing waste. The Clean Ganga campaign is a very big programme of cleanliness and there will be about 150 treatment plants being set up along the river which is a big opportunity for players like us. Also the fact the rejuvenation programme will be extended to other rivers means that there will be a lot of work to be done. We have demonstrated our capability in the water sector over the years and will be very happy to offer solutions that are not just cost effective but also sustainable.”

If leading market players like Ion Exchange are gung ho about the business prospects ahead even small firms are now in the fray for a slice of the burgeoning clean technology market.  Sadhana Enviro Engineering Services offers one stop solutions for municipal garbage, sewage handling and transportation. It supplies equipment like high pressure sewer jetting hoses, suction pumps, desilting tools, road sweeping machines, garbage processing compactors and loaders to various urban local bodies, municipal corporations and water boards in Karnataka cities like Mysore, Hubli-Dharwad, Bellary, Bidar, Gulbarga. The Bengaluru based firm has now made its presence felt in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and is looking to expand its reach to other states. Apart from distributing machines produced by various players it carries out manufacturing and after sales service activities like supplies of spares and accessories and operation and maintenance of equipment. Says T S Nagaraj, Founder Proprietor, Sadhana Enviro Engineering Services, “With the government’s emphasis on Swachh Bharat getting rid of waste has increasingly become everyone’s business today. With so much work ahead players like us cannot afford to waste any business that comes our way.”

No one can argue with the cleanliness embedded in Nagaraj’s logic. His is a sweeping statement which not just Prime Minister Modi but even old warrior Sam would approve.

But for the larger message of a Clean India to seep through the country’s social fabric will take some doing. Education at the grassroots level will hold the key to the country’s cleanliness conundrum. Not the one off display of sweeping on streets on Gandhi Jayanti Day. Cleanliness cannot just be one person’s pipe dream. Industries, educational institutions, service organisations and government establishments must collaborate to ensure that India’s newly found broom engine does not lose its steam.





Name of mission:  Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (urban and rural) 

Target: Sanitation for all Indians

Deadline for implementation: October 2, 2019



68.8 million tons of waste generated each year

6000 tons of plastic littered every day

600 million defecating in the open



111 million: New individual household latrines; 66,575 to be built per day.

177 lakh: Government funded toilets to be built per annum

1.04 crore: Toilets for urban households across 4041 towns

2.2 lakh: Community toilets

56,928: More toilets in rural schools across India 


Rs. 196,000 crore: Government funding over a five-year period

Rs.20 lakh: annual funding from government to 2,47,000 village panchayats.

Rs.1,00,000 crore: For rural toilets

Rs.62,000 crore: For urban toilets



Leave a Comment

Email Address
(will not be published)