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NMMC sewage-to-money dream turns nightmare

Navi Mumbai civic body fails to recover even single paisa of Rs 200-crore cost of sewage treatment project as it has not been able to attract any buyers for treated water since 2009 opening of plants

The much-hyped Rs 200-crore sewage treatment project of the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC), which the civic body had famously claimed would earn it Rs 50 crore annually by way of sale of treated water to industrial units, has become a white elephant of sorts.


The Nerul sewage treatment plant is one of
three built in 2009 as part of the project


Constructed with sophisticated Austrian technology, the sewage treatment plants located in Nerul, Vashi and Airoli have a total treatment capacity of up to 280 million litres per day (MLD).

At the time of the opening of the plants, the civic body had said it would recover the cost of the project in four years by making Rs 50 crore every year from the sale of treated water. The reality is that not a single paisa has been recovered so far as there are no takers for the treated water.

And for this situation the NMMC itself might be to blame, as it does not want to create the infrastructure to supply the treated water, instead insisting that any buyers will have to make their own provisions to transport the water.

At the project planning stage, the NMMC had also claimed that the sewage treatment plants would help save around 100 million litres of drinking water daily, but this has not happened as there are no takers for the treated water.

"When NMMC decided to spend over Rs 200 crore on hi-tech sewage treatment plants, it justified the act by saying that the project would not only generate revenue but also save millions of litres of drinking water.

But because of lack of planning regarding connectivity of the plants and transportation of potable water, the new hi-tech plants have become white elephants for the NMMC," said NCP corporator M K Madhvi in the general body meeting held last week.

The civic body has neither been able to find a buyer for its treated water nor is it willing to use the water for its own facilities, including nine NMMC hospitals and 136 gardens that together cover over 5.47 lakh square metres.

The MIDC units that consume lakhs of litres of water daily are also unwilling to buy the treated water.
But the NMMC does not think its plan for sewage treatment has resulted in a waste of taxpayer money.

"The first priority of the project is to treat sewage and release better quality water into the creek to mitigate water pollution. Selling treated water to industrial units and earning money in the process was the second option," said NMMC Additional City Engineer Surendra Patil.
 
"We have successfully met our first target and now are concentrating on the second one selling the treated water."

Asked why the civic body could not find even a single customer for the treated water since 2009, the NNMC official said they had assigned two firms, ILFS and Ramco, for studying the feasibility of selling treated water.
"But the firms stopped showing interest in the project during the worldwide recession in 2009.
 
Now, we have passed a proposal to sell the water on PPP (public-private partnership) basis," said Patil. "Our dream of becoming the first Indian civic body to sell treated water will come true soon, may be in another eight months."

The NMMC has also showed reluctance to sell the treated water to local industrial units because it wants to sell only in bulk.

Patil said the civic body was not interested in investing money on laying a pipeline and spending on other equipment for supply of treated water to prospective customers' doorstep.

"We are actually not interested in retail selling. We are in no hurry and are looking for bulk buyers who buy the whole 265 MLD water," said Patil. "So if someone wants to buy water, he is welcome to lay his own pipeline, invest on other equipment, and take away the water.

A case in point is that of CIDCO, which has signed an agreement with us for purchasing 1 MLD water from the NMMC and has spent Rs 1.5 crore only on laying pipelines. We are not averse to such customers."

Patil cited the same reason for not using the treated water for NMMC hospitals and gardens. "We are not willing to invest any money on ferrying water to these facility. I know it would have saved a lot drinking water, but we want to realise our long-cherished dream of becoming the first civic body to sell sewage water," said Patil.

More plants planned
IN spite of the non-recovery of the project cost for the three hi-tech sewage treatment plants it has already constructed, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation has planned three more plants worth Rs 150 crore.

According to NMMC officials, the plants, to be located at CBD Belapur, Sanpada and Koparkhairne, will be operational by the end of the year and will produce 134 MLD of treated water.

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