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Crosscurrents

Stop looking to government

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May 15, 2010 | From the print edition

Individual initiatives can go a long way in solving the energy crisis
 

This might sound perverse but this writer actually likes the water and power crises that is upon us. It is poetry to one who has long lamented young journalists’ lack of attention to the shortage of power and water and, of course, to the piling heaps of garbage in every city.

What the media does not realize is that people act only when they perceive benefit. Let’s face it: this armageddon of growth that our times are seeing is not going to go away. We can argue endlessly for stopping growth or curbing conspicuous consumption. But people have an uncanny way of either displaying deliberate ignorance or being unwilling to recognize larger concerns. “My neighbour will be as badly affected if things turn bad on the planet. I will take things as it comes,” is the ostrich-like attitude we continue to have.

Let us talk of recent times. With summer upon us—somewhat earlier than usual—newspapers have begun screaming. “Get set for dry taps,” one headline screamed. “The reason for ecological disturbance is that our catchment areas are encroached upon. It has been happening for many years and now there is no water,” a water supply official lamented in another newspaper report. “Dark, dry, hot days ahead,” warned one front page headline. “Get set to pay more for water,” said another.

The water supply cost to the consumer is now set to rise sharply across India’s cities. The reason is quite simple. Without being able to draw from either the ground or tanks one can’t have water in one’s house. In nearly every city, the cost of transporting is over 60 per cent of the cost of water supply. The Water Supply Board in Bengaluru, for example, has to incur a cost of Rs 19 per 1,000 litres. But we in the city pay no more than Rs 6 for 1,000 litres—and much less in many other cities.

What most newspapers—and development workers—don’t discuss is the need for citizens to move away from the sort of thinking we could afford in the past 50 years. One can’t place the problem at the government’s door. If you do not get water at home, don’t look to the government. Look toward recycling water with treatment systems.

Of course these come at a cost: Rs 15,000-20,000 for a single family or for an apartment home. But then ours is a time of middle-class affluence. If every family in apartments and plush localities in a city like Bengaluru decided to treat the wastewater it generates, our freshwater needs would halve. One could say the same holds true for energy: look for little changes in your lighting system at a cost of about Rs 2,000. Many of our metros could reduce their electricity demand by as much as 30 per cent if the middle class takes to energy-efficient lighting.

The same goes for waste. No wet waste should be sent out of homes. There are solutions today: wet waste treatment systems costing no more than Rs 2,000. How do we ensure people implement such solutions? The media believes executive fiat is the way forward. But they would serve the cause better by drawing people’s attention to the benefits of such systems.

The technology solutions that we talked about only pertain to the middle class. Where are the makers of the water treatment systems who make the technology viable enough at prices affordable to the lower middle class? Are there entrepreneurs who offer lighting systems to the poor at reasonable prices? Entrepreneurs do not yet realize that the lower middle class can also be a market for water-treatment and energy systems. The media has done nothing to change their ways.

The writer is CEO of Biodiversity Conservation (India) Limited, a green home company in Bengaluru

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