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Managing wastewater treatment in India

by: SPI

India has the second largest population in the world. As the country races towards a more developed economy, one of the casualties has been the deteriorating state of the environment. Rapid industrialisation has, unfortunately, increased pollutants in the surrounding areas. One of these pollutants is wastewater.

India has made improvements over the past decades to both the availability and quality of municipal drinking water systems. Regardless of improvements to improve the drinking water, many other water sources are contaminated with both biological and chemical pollutants, and over 20% of the country's diseases are water-related. Further, only 33% of the country has access to sanitation.

Almost 80% of water supply flows back into the ecosystem as wastewater. This can be a critical environmental and health hazard if not treated properly. Proper supervision could help the water managers to meet the city’s water demands.

Management of the issue through wastewater treatment plants in India is imperative for Indian cities today. One concern is that India may lack overall long-term availability of replenish-able water resources. As with all countries with large agricultural output, substantial water consumption for food production depletes the overall water table.

It is undeniable that India’s water treatment sector has a lot of room for improvement or, in other words, it has substantial development potential. European firms can enter this market with collaborations from the Indian government/partners to help India achieve a sustainable and affordable long-term water treatment solution.

This document is developed specifically for those who are interested or involved in the following aspects:

  • Creative methods or ideas to tackle the wastewater treatment challenges
  • Feasible solutions for wastewater treatment given the political and economic landscape in the country
  • Ability to establish a business that is driven by environmental topics or smart cities development


Important things to know about wastewater treatment in India

  • Wastewater - Almost 80% of water supply flows back into the ecosystem as wastewater. This can be a critical environmental and health hazard if not treated properly. In addition, the management of this system could help the water leaders to meet the city’s water demand. According to the 2015 report of the Central Pollution Control Board, India has the capacity to treat approximately 37% of its wastewater, or 22,963 million litres per day (MLD), against a daily sewage generation of approximately 61,754 MLD. Moreover, most wastewater treatment plants do not function at maximum capacity and do not conform to the prescribed standards.


  • Expanding cities - India is rapidly urbanizing with over 475 million people living in cities, up from 286 million in 2001. This has created an immense pressure on urban water infrastructure. Wastewater treatment ensures water can be recycled for various purposes, thereby contributing directly to the improvement of public health and environmental balance. The re-use of wastewater after appropriate treatment contributes to water sustainability and can be one of the solutions to the growing scarcity of fresh water in India.


  • Challenges:
    • Lack of public awareness
    • Limited number of public-private partnerships on wastewater management
    • Low level of government support
    • Lack of a structured and cohesive nationwide campaign to generate awareness
    • Need for further wastewater and treatment plants


In Level 2 you will find information about innovation and current development of wastewater treatment in India, while Level 3 will tell you more about business activities (through case studies) in wastewater treatment in India and what the EU has contributed in India.

Wastewater is contaminated water. The two main sources of water contamination are sewage and industrial waste. As India ramps up economically, wastewater volume is also increasing at an alarming rate. The shrinking of freshwater sources such as rivers, wells and groundwater is not sustainable in the long run.

Contamination of clean water with wastewater is another issue that requires attention. Contaminated water is entering rivers and polluting them. When this water runs downstream and joins other water sources, the contamination spreads further. Wastewater also seeps into the ground, contaminating underground water sources. The result is that almost every water source is today heavily polluted — from rivers and wells to coastal areas.

In India, water is scarce and must be used carefully and effectively. The inefficient use of wastewater is leaving India unable to make the most economical use of its resources. India’s population is extremely vulnerable to changes in water supply. Climate change related effects on the monsoon are having, and will continue to have, huge implications on agriculture, which makes India even more vulnerable. More than 60% of the country’s population relies on agriculture for their livelihood and nearly two-thirds of the cultivated land is rain-fed. At the same time, the government has launched ambitious programmes such as the ‘Smart City Mission’ and the ‘Make in India’ campaign which also have possible water and environmental impacts.

Many communities in India are situated on the outskirts of urban areas, and have little choice but to drill wells to access groundwater sources. These add to the overall depletion of water.

India's water crisis is often attributed to lack of government planning, increased privatization, industrial and human waste, and government corruption. Water scarcity in India is expected to worsen with the overall population predicted to increase to 1.6 billion by 2050.

Institutional Structure for Wastewater Management in India

In India, pollution control activities are the joint responsibility of three different ministries: The Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), and the recently formed Ministry of Jal Shakti. Together with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), these bodies are responsible for developing and implementing policies and related standards of wastewater management in India.

Technology Considerations under the Regulatory Framework

There were a total of 13 wastewater treatment systems identified in India in 2013, with Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB) as the most commonly used technology. Current trends and Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) under development include Activated Sludge Process (ASP), Moving Bed Biofilm Reactor (MBBR) and Sequencing Batch Reactor (SBR) plants. There is no similar overview for decentralized technologies. The CPCB has evaluated a range of technologies according to performance and cost. These included ASP, MBBR, SBR, Upflow UASB-EA, Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) and Waste Stabilization Pond (WSP).

The rise of wastewater recycling in India

Wastewater recycling in India has the potential to become a very valuable industry, with proper participation of governments, urban and local bodies, and small industries. India is the biggest consumer of freshwater in the world today, accounting for about 750 billion cubic metres annually, according to the World Bank. For a country which accounts for only 4 percent of the world’s water resources, despite hosting 17 percent of the world’s population, the water crisis is an imminent danger. The CPCB estimates that by 2030, India’s water demand will rise to 1.5 trillion cubic metres. How can India bridge the divide between water haves and have-nots? The lack of proper infrastructure and awareness of wastewater recycling in India has resulted in over-exploitation of India’s water resources, with very limited mechanisms for wastewater recycling.

Though at lower levels compared to global standards, India has been investing in wastewater treatment since 2004. With increases in rural and urban sanitation coverage under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) since 2014, a number of private corporations have been increasing interest in the sanitation and wastewater recycling sector. The World Bank estimates that India’s total water and sanitation sector is worth $420 million (€382 million), with an annual growth rate of 18 per cent. Investments in this sector by private corporations could see the growth of small organisations associating themselves with wastewater collection and redirection of wastewater to treatment plants, including transportation of wastewater from remote locations to treatment plants. This would strengthen both the entrepreneurial outlook in rural and urban India, as well as address the issue of wastewater management.

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has played a crucial role in addressing the issue of wastewater treatment. It laid stress on the development of indigenous technologies and has brought in experts from Gujarat Technological University and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to conduct research on how low-cost technologies to treat wastewater can be developed. The mission has also emphasised the importance of Radiation Hygienisation, a process in which wastewater from households is made safe using gamma radiation and the water is made fit for industrial or household usage other than consumption.

Presence of local and global companies tackling the issues

Local companies that specialize in wastewater treatment are already working on this problem. Companies such as Triveni Engineering and Veolia are trying to tackle India’s water crisis. Partnership with the local companies that already specialize in wastewater treatment will give European organizations a stepping stone into the Indian wastewater treatment industry.

Additionally, a number of larger corporations like Xylem India, Jaldhara Technologies, and Wabag have been engaged in providing sustainable solutions for wastewater treatment. Wabag has been instrumental in building the first plant for recycling of wastewater to drinking water in Namibia and has plans to replicate this in India. Full scale implementation of such plants in India will reduce the over usage of India’s water resources for drinking purposes.

India-EU Collaboration in Water

The India-EU S&T Cooperation Agreement has continued to be implemented since 2001, with its first renewal in 2007 and a further renewal for another five years in 2015. The India-EU S&T Cooperation Agreement is guided by principle of parity, symmetry, sharing of IPR and co-investment of resources including funds. The India-EU Science & Technology Cooperation is governed by India-EU Science and Technology Ministries and India-EU Joint S&T Steering Committee.

In addition, the India-EU Joint Declaration on Research and Innovation was signed in 2012 during the 12th India-EU Summit in New Delhi. This declaration helped drive solutions to societal challenges in the field of health, water, energy and bio-economy through research and innovation. Examples of India-EU S&T Cooperation in water or wastewater management are provided below.

Water4Crops is one of the largest Euro-India collaborative projects addressing the emerging, increasingly important issue for the world: “Water and wastewater reuse and management”. It is co-funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India and the European Commission (under KBBE.2012.3.5-03: Biotechnological wastewater treatments and reuse in agronomical systems). Water4Crops stands for “integrating bio-treated wastewater reuse and valorization with enhanced water use efficiency to support the Green Economy in Europe and India”. The project brings together an Indo-European consortium of 36 organizations (14 Indian and 22 European) of research institutions, universities, large industries and SMEs.


  • There are six sister EU-India H2020 projects working on drinking water purification, wastewater  treatment and real time monitoring, and control systems for water distribution for rural and urban Indian conditions which are; India-H2O, LOTUS, PANI WATER, PAVITR, SPRING, PAVITRA GANGA, and Saraswati 2.0. Below are further descriptions of 2 selected projects:


PAVITRA GANGA (H2020 project)

The Ganga River is important for India’s economy and public health, but is contaminated by heavy metals and dangerously polluted. Combined actions related to wastewater treatment are needed. A government programme, the Namami Gange is addressing the problem, taking into consideration the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The EU-funded PAVITRA GANGA project is part of the EU/India cooperation and aims to support wastewater treatment and reuse proposals in urban and peri-urban sites of India. It targets socially vulnerable groups and offers training for open innovation test sites, aiming for the treatment of open drains. By using advanced technology, it intends to eliminate heavy metals and organic pollution in the river and create new economic opportunities. Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek (Flemish Institute for Technological Research - VITO) is the project coordinator of Pavitra Ganga and the consortium is comprised of a total of 14 institutions, of which 8 are European and 6 are from India.


Saraswati 2.0 (H2020 project)

The treatment of urban wastewater is fundamental to ensuring public health and environmental protection. Decentralised water and wastewater treatment are flexible and sustainable alternatives to large treatment plants. It can help solve water scarcity and climate resilience challenges. This involves locating water and wastewater treatment plants at the site of water supply, demand, or both. The EU-funded SARASWATI 2.0 project aims to identify the most affordable and best available technologies. A continuation of the previous project SARASWATI (named after the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science and the name of the lost holy river in India), the project focuses around pilots being implemented in India. The project is led by the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) Austria, and the consortium is comprised of a total of 17 institutions of which 9 are European, 7 are from India and one partner from Israel.



CPCB (2013). Performance Evaluation of Treatment Plants in India under funding of NRDC. Available online at: (accessed December 12, 2019).



Last updated: 12.10.2020 - 18:53
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