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Small water enterprises form alliance in India, seek policy reforms

New Delhi : Several leading small water enterprises (SWEs) have joined hands with entrepreneurs, technology & service providers as well as funders and knowledge providers to launch the Small Water Enterprise Alliance in India, hoping to facilitate joint initiatives to establish industry standards, accelerate sector funding and advance regulatory reforms.

The multi-sectoral collaboration, which was facilitated by leading SWE operating in India for past several years Safe Water Network, has asked for several policy changes and facilitations from the Union Government to support scaling up of their operations in a bid to reach more people with quality drinking water.

One of the major demands that the SWEs have put forward is to increase the selling price of water to Rs 5 for 20 litre instead of the existing Rs 2 prescribed by state governments in their rural programmes to avoid any reliance on viability gap funding or any other subsidy.

"Price point of Rs 2 makes the operation suboptimal and unsustainable, leaving no reserves for provisioning of service fees and spares for maintenance or accumulation of a sinking fund for replacement of major parts or components", said Safe Water Network India Founding Trustee Ravindra Sewak.

In urban areas, the pricing must be Rs 10 for 20 litre to cover higher operating expenses. In case the state government wishes to provide lower pricing, it can facilitate direct benefit transfer (DBT), akin to a gas subsidy to the direct beneficiary, Safe Water Network said in its India Sector Review 2018 report.

So far, there has been capping on the amount that SWEs and other enterprises can charge to provide safe potable water to under-served and un-served communities across India.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the Small Water Enterprise (SWE) Alliance and the India sector review 2018 report recently in New Delhi during the seventh Beyond the Pipe Forum hosted by Safe Water Network.

According to industry officials, over the past four-five years, there has been a fourfold increase in the number of SWEs from an estimated 12000 to 50000, with each serving communities of about 3000 people.

"Most of this increase has been through state government initiatives. As such, SWEs have expanded in both urban and rural settings in more than 17 states. But to meet the significant demand, expansion will need to be accelerated. As a sector, there is an opportunity for SWEs to play a far greater role in mitigating the country’s current drinking water challenge where about 820 million are beyond treated piped water as per Census 2011", said Sewak.

"For SWEs to scale, we need both institutional and financial policy reforms. A true spirit of public-private partnerships is required, with fair-risk tenders, models that can attract private funding, single-window clearance to facilitate implementation, development of skilled manpower, and benchmarking of SWE performance", he added.

The SWE Alliance is aimed at serving as the national professional body to mainstream the enterprises in the national drinking water policy with allocated budgets and promote a conducive policy and regulatory environment. The Alliance will work collaboratively with the government and other stakeholders on vital professional issues and seek support to advance SWEs in all aspects for the public good.

“Access to affordable, safe drinking water is a critical requirement for public health. The Government is committed to providing safe piped water for all. Small water enterprises complement the Government’s efforts to provide high-quality treated water in areas where it is difficult for piped water to reach. ....The India Sector Review calls for action and provides specific recommendations to develop meaningful PPPs for sustainable safe water access", said Chief Engineer-PHED, Haryana, D R Yadav while launching the India Sector Review 2018 report.

The SWE alliance has also asked that infrastructure availability while setting up the SWE as per codal provisions through single-window clearance be made necessary to prevent delays arising out of multiple authorities’ approvals, which also add to the cost.

“The Small Water Enterprise Alliance brings together sector stakeholders to develop an eco-system for scale. There is a high level of involvement from the sector stakeholders. This includes small water enterprise practitioners, technology providers and funders who are interested in working together to lead the sector and facilitate the expansion of SWEs. This alliance will help SWEs make their voices heard, influence policy change to facilitate expansion and unlock capital", said Director of the office of Social Sector Initiatives for USAID-India Thomas Kress.

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