Guzzling, dirtying

Cotton, textiles face water, waste problems

Published: Friday 31 March 2006

Guzzling, dirtying

Water is a big concern. Growing cotton is water-intensive at the best of times as is manufacturing textiles and treating the waste generated. In India, cotton guzzles more water than anywhere in the world -- even more than the other extremely water-intensive cotton crops of China and the us. India has the largest area in the world under cotton, 9.5 million ha in 2004-2005 -- almost double the 1950 figures and 21 per cent of the global acreage. According to estimates of thae Food and Agriculture Organisation (fao), one cotton plant needs 700-1,300 mm water, depending on the climate and the growing period. In the early stages, the water requirement is 10 per cent of this figure, while during the flowering period, when the leaf area is dense, the requirement is about 50 to 60 per cent.

According to the Union ministry of agriculture, only 35 per cent of the area under cotton is irrigated, the rest is rain-fed. Conventionally, Indian farmers use the furrow irrigation system. According to research by Jain Irrigation Systems, a Maharashtra-based manufacturer of micro irrigation systems, a switch to drip irrigation can save 53 per cent of water and increase the yield by about 27 per cent.

A technology mission on cotton was launched in February 2000 to address these issues, which worked in four phases. The agenda for the first two was the development and implementation of integrated water management practices including water-saving devices like drips and sprinklers. But there is no data on its achievements.

It is important that irrigation strategy is worked out because the area under cotton is certain to increase. Water saved by improving irrigation practices will have to feed the new acreage. Policy-makers will also have to factor in the impact of textile-processing units in Pali and Balotra in Rajasthan, Jetpur in Gujarat and Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, which create conflicts over water use. Once spinning and weaving have been done, the processes that follow require clean water. According to research by the Centre for Science and Environment, based on the wastewater data of the Central Pollution Control Board ('Industrial water use: Overused, underrated', Down To Earth February 2004), the water consumption of the Indian textile industry is about 2,200-2,900 million litres per day (mld). Of this, 25 per cent is consumed by small-scale industries.

While consuming clean water, the textile industry pollutes water sources forcing industrialists to shell out huge sums on water. "As the total dissolved solid (tds) content in groundwater is high, we buy 120 kilolitres (kl) water a day from adjoining areas," says Mangilal Gandhi, owner of Sankeshwar Fabrics, Pali. Gandhi spends Rs 50 lakh a year on water. Official water requirement for industries in Pali is 34 mld. Different agencies estimate the water requirement of Tirupur between 85 mld (Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board) to 120 mld (dyers' association). Groundwater is the backbone of Tirupur. Estimates show that roughly between 2,000-3,000 tankers of capacities between 10 and 12 kl make 7 to 10 trips daily to Tirupur with the costs fluctuating between Rs 1,000 per tanker during summer to a low of Rs 100 during monsoon season.

K Dhanapal, former member of the Madras High Court-appointed expert committee to look into the matter of pollution in Tirupur and director, epic-in, a Coimbatore-based ngo, says, "Wet processing units in Tirupur spends Rs 115 crore annually on groundwater." Water for Tirupur's industries come from surrounding blocks like Avanashi, Palladam, Annur, Kangeyam, and parts of neighbouring Erode district. Pali gets its groundwater from a radius of 10-20 km. P K Batra, a hydrogeologist of the groundwater department in Pali, says, "Due to heavy extraction, groundwater levels are falling at the rate 0.62 m a year."

Surface water is costly, while using groundwater is an unsustainable option. Industrialists in Tirupur, along with the government of Tamil Nadu, floated the New Tirupur Area Development Corporation Limited (ntadcl) in 1998 to supply 125 mld of Bhavani water at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore. Says Dhanapal, "At present for a small-scale dyer, tanker water (Rs 10-20 per kl) is cheaper as compared to Bhavani water which is Rs 45 per kl." Kandasamy, president, Tirupur Dyers Association, brushes aside the concerns, " ntadcl water is clean and needs no pre-treatment and hence no additional costs." However, groundwater levels are expected to fall, because ntadcl 's present supply of 50 mld is way below the dyers association's estimated requirement.

The Indian textile industry is not water-efficient. Michael Crow, an mit researcher who has studied small-scale bleachers and dyers in Tirupur says, "Water requirement is 250 kl and 80 kl for dyeing and bleaching a tonne respectively." According to K P Nyati of the Confederation of Indian Industry, the combined global best figure is 100 kl per tonne."

According to Kandasamy, the volume of clothes processed in Tirupur has risen by 50 tonnes per day in 2005-2006. With exports zooming after the scrapping of mfa, cotton textile output has also risen, increasing water needs.

-- SVSuresh Babu8

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