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Suez & Veolia see profit in India’s water

What are Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s water policies? Why are for-profit water corporations like Suez and Veolia seeking to expand their operations in India?

Bloomberg reports, “Modi’s agenda includes reviving a 30-year-old plan to link Himalayan and peninsular rivers to channel water to deficient basins.” The Blue Planet Project is opposed to this scheme. The article adds, “He also wants to curb toxic discharges into the Ganges.” This 2,525 kilometre long river is one of the most polluted waterways in the world, with most of that pollution coming from domestic sewage. And despite the desperate need to fund water and sanitation services in India, the article notes, “Modi set aside 42 billion rupees ($671 million) for water resources in the year ending March 2016, down from about 131 billion rupees in the previous fiscal year.”

In terms of present operations, “[Veolia] currently has municipal treatment plants in India’s Karnataka, Maharashtra and Delhi states [while] Suez plans to bid for large sewage and desalination facilities in Mumbai, Chennai and other cities…”

The newspaper highlights, “Veolia Environnement SA, Europe’s biggest water company, aims to sell more treatment plants to Indian energy and mining businesses. The next largest, Suez Environnement Co., is considering purchases of local operators as part of a push for 10-fold growth in the Asian country over five years. …[An analyst has noted] Modi’s push to curb pollution in the river Ganges also boosts the outlook for Veolia, India’s VA Tech Wabag Ltd. and Singapore’s Hyflux Ltd [given it’s expected to prompt industrial demand for water recycling]…”

In October 2013, Olivier Petitjean wrote in Multinationales.org, “French multinationals Suez and Veolia have been eager to present India as a new El Dorado for water privatization. The largely untapped India market, with its almost infinite potential, would allow them to renew with commercial expansion, restore their reputation, and prove that private water management – a model that has come under heavy criticism recently, both in France and abroad – is still a valid option in today’s world.”

The Bloomberg article cautions, “Almost 600 million Indians are at risk of supply disruption as surface and groundwater levels drop, imperiling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development agenda and signaling the nation’s $1.4 billion market for wastewater recycling is set to grow.”

Access to water and sanitation is a critical issue in India. It has been estimated that more than 97 million people lack access to safe drinking water in India, while more than 800 million people do not benefit from hygienic sanitation facilities such as toilets. 780,000 deaths each year are attributable to contaminated water. Diarrhea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths each day in India. And 75 percent of India’s rivers and lakes are so polluted that they should not be used for drinking or bathing.

To read more about the water situation in India, please see the blogs by New Delhi-based Blue Planet Project organizer Madhuresh Kumar here.

Further reading
Modi approves increased height for Sardar Sarovar Dam (July 2014 blog)