Water ATM

Sarvajal makes clean drinking water accessible to people

By Ankur Paliwal
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Water ATM

Photographs: Ankur Paliwal As dawn breaks, two queues start forming at the only petrol pump in Lakshmangarh, a small town in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. One, obviously, is of people waiting to get their vehicles’ fuel tanks refilled. The other is in front of a simple metal box mounted on the petrol pump’s boundary wall. People like to call it ATM machine. But instead of dispensing cash, it gives them clean drinking water.

On her turn, 26-year-old Sapna Jatav takes out a plastic card and holds it in front of a sensor of the water ATM. The sensor reads her card and shows a balance of Rs 130. Jatav places a 10-litre container below a pipe on the water ATM and presses a button. Reverse Osmosis (RO) processed water starts flowing from the pipe. Jatav releases the button when the container is full. The machine calculates the quantity of water dispensed and deducts the amount from her account. One litre costs 50 paisa.

The technological initiative, powered by solar energy, is changing the lives of many in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Earlier, people depended on the saline municipal water or groundwater that has high fluoride content. “Water was not fit even for cooking,” says homemaker Rekha Atolia. “Tea would get curdled. Dal would not cook if baking soda was not added to it. When relatives would come, we would buy bottled water,” she says.

A study conducted last year by Jhunjhunu-based JJT University states that fluoride content in Alwar groundwater is between 2 parts per million (ppm) and 7 ppm, much beyond WHO’S permissible limit of 1 ppm. High fluoride in water is responsible for increasing cases of renal failure in the district, says the study published in Global Journal of Pharmaceutical Research in September 2012.

How it all began

The technology is the brainchild of Piramal Foundation, the corporate social responsibility branch of global business conglomerate Piramal group.

Dharamveer Singh, sales head of Sarvajal, the company started by Piramal Foundation, shares the journey of water ATM. “In 2008, we were brainstorming possible technological solutions to the problem of contaminated water. We also wanted to reduce the drudgery of women who travel long distances to fetch water,” Singh reminisces. Sarvajal started with door-to-door supply of RO water.

An RO plant was set up in Jhunjhunu’s Bagar village. But problems started cropping up soon. “Different people would give different delivery times. With little staff this was difficult. Also, door-to-door delivery involved manual labour, which we wanted to reduce,” says Singh. Another problem was of delayed payments.

The new model has pre-paid system that ensures zero debtTo solve these issues, Sarvajal thought of water ATM and pre-paid cards. V1 has a water tank kept locked above the machine. The tank is connected to the RO plant, which uses groundwater for processing. The plant can process 1,000 litres in an hour. Processed water is carried to the tank using booster pumps. V1 has three buttons—of 1 litre, 5 litres and 10 litres. People could scan the card on the ATM’s sensor and press the button, depending on their water requirement.

The problem with V1 was that many a time a lot of water would get wasted because there was no standard size of containers that people brought with them. So, if a customer pressed the five-litre button and the container’s size was 4.5 litres, half litre would go waste.

There was a social problem as well. One big village in Rajasthan has two or three smaller villages, called dhani, based on the nature of the community. If water ATM was installed in one dhani, people of other dhanis would object.

The advanced model of water ATM took care of the two issues. To avoid clashes, the new model is strategically placed so that it can be accessed by people of all communities. The machine itself is simpler with just one button.

The technology uses GSM, or Global System for Mobile communications. It helps Singh keep track of all the 20 machines installed while sitting at his office in Jaipur. A software called Soochak informs Singh on his mobile phone of damage in any machine. For example, if the percentage of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), a kind of water impurity, crosses the permissible limit, the RO plant would automatically stop functioning and Soochak would alert the operator. Singh claims the system is so sophisticated that he is alerted even if a pipe starts to rust. Every machine is also checked properly once a month, he says.

Sarvajal claims to recharge the wastewater produced during the RO process. “Groundwater here has high TDS content. Processing leaves 50 per cent water with TDS content,” says Singh. This water is sent back to the aquifers through recharge wells.

D C Garg, hydrologist at the district groundwater department, says this process may increase the TDS content in groundwater. But Anuj Sharma, chief operating officer of Sarvajal, argues that only 0.5 per cent of the extracted water is used for drinking. Most is used for agriculture, shows groundwater extraction data.

The operation of water ATMs is managed through local partners. “The idea is to promote local entrepreneurs,” says Sharma. In Lakshmangarh, petrol pump owner Abhir Modi manages the operations. So far, he has around 550 customers who either come to the ATM or get water delivered at their doorsteps. “We have only one water ATM in the village, so people who live far prefer to get it delivered at their homes,” says Modi. The charge for home delivery is 70 paisa. Modi sells around 700 litres of water every day. In summers, the requirement goes up to 1,000 litres. “It is better to drink clean water than spend money on medical treatment later,” says Atolia. Sarvajal now plans to set up one more machine in the town.

It is a profitable business for the company as well. The total cost of setting up the RO plant with the machine is around Rs 5 lakh. Franchisees pay 40 per cent of their earnings to the company. If the franchisees own the machine, they pay 20 per cent of the earnings to the company. A unit breaks even when it serves 125 families with 20 litres each daily. The company provides maintenance, advertising support and community drive.

“We do not say that we provide the best solution, but this is the best we can do in the existing circumstances,” says Sharma. Surprisingly, the district collector and other officials in the groundwater department know nothing of water ATMs. With no government initiative to tackle the problem of contaminated water, such an entrepreneurial venture is a big hit.

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  • Congratulations to the

    Congratulations to the reporter and the the team of Sarvajal for providing clean and drinkable water to the people of the targeted area. The name of "Water ATM" attracts the people with better access. The process of RO is well established and it is positive that the required power is supported by solar power system. It is expected that the cost is less compare to the money people spend on the medicine.

    The two statements made in the article like: "It is a profitable business for the company as well" and "We do not say that we provide the best solution, but this is the best we can do in the existing circumstances,ÔÇØ & to recharge the wastewater produced during the RO process by sending back to the aquifers through recharge wells" results for alarming signal.

    The comments and suggestions in this direction includes:

    £ In spite of the availability of clean water, how many poor people can afford? This needs an alternative with community based interventions.

    £ Sustainability of such process and reaching the unreached needs to be planned systematically involving all the stakeholders.

    £ As stated, "it is profitable business for the company?". Then it is not for the people in general and it is a business solution.

    £ Recharging the wastewater of RO process back to the aquifer through recharge wells will affect groundwater which is already affected by salinity or fluorides.

    £ Have any attempts been made to minimize the severity of salinity or fluorides? Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) may help to enhance the water resources both at surface & subsurface, and to control salinity / fluoride.

    £ The use of Geological and Geophysical tools including GIS will help to map the water resources and its assessment in terms of quantity, quality and measures to be taken to preserve & protect from all possible pollutants.

    £ Collaboration with the local groundwater department may help to get better solutions with better availability, accessibility and affordability (3As).

    The beginning with water ATMs is very good and needs to be planned more systematically with sustainable interventions.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Sir, This is a wondefull idea


    This is a wondefull idea of dispensing clean water at 50p a liter through ATM card.
    We wish to have one at our petrol bunk at Anakapalle, Visakhapatnam Dist., Andhra Pradesh.
    Please provide us the address of the company who supplies the RO.



    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • An excellent idea. Good use

    An excellent idea. Good use of technology to meet local community needs. I hope this venture expands through out India and the rest of the world.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Good inititative and ppp

    Good inititative and ppp model will help upscaling this. Also capital cost may go down in the long-run.


    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks for your interest. You

    Thanks for your interest. You can contact Dharamveer Singh, sales head Sarvajal. His number is 07742007777 and Email- dharamveer@sarvajal.com

    Posted by: Ankur Paliwal | 4 years ago | Reply
  • I like this. We want to

    I like this. We want to harvest rain water to supply the community but also give back some of the water we pump from the community well. This innovation can be very helpful to our plans. Is it ready for Africa now?

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Indeed a novel attempt to

    Indeed a novel attempt to provide safe drinking water. But reverse osmosis runs the risk of demineralisation of water . How this problem will be addressed?

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Excellent Ankur.

    Excellent Ankur.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Dear All, The approach might

    Dear All,
    The approach might be a good business solution and also to facilitate safe drinking water.
    However, the process of discharging the wastewater into the Recharge Pit should be stopped. Because, eventually it will end up with even more TDS in the raw water. In the long run, it might exceed the capacity of the RO plant as well.
    Rather the the rain water may perhaps be utilised for such recharging.
    Lastly, a community based large Water Supply Scheme may perhaps be initiated to facilitate safe water to the households for drinking and cooking purpose and till then this approach should be continued as a short term measure only.
    Thanking you.
    Nripendra Kumar Sarma
    Guwahati, Assam, India

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • They are absolving government

    They are absolving government from its responsibility of providing clean and safe drinking water, BTW Disadvantages of reverse osmosis is that they are very inefficient. They waste large quantities of water and can need extensive maintenance. It is estimated that for every litre of water they produce, two to three litres are lost. That is a seriously poor rate and a tremendous waste of a precious resource.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • No doubt the method sounds

    No doubt the method sounds novel as we have such buzz words like ATM,prepaid card etc. People with western thinking and orientation are ignorant of the realities in rural areas of developing countries. Can this system work? Is it sustainable? Even simple Box Type Solar Cooker could not penetrate in Rural areas which is more than 60 years old. Only 6 lakh units sold(but not all of them used). What is the fate of solar panels at signals? In India the major problem is dust accumulation on the solar panels. Who undertakes regular cleaning? Even regular ATM(Cash) ,there are many cases of theft. Is the WATER ATM Fool Proof? How much quantity it can meet? There is a notion among planners and western educated that, RURAL IS BAD,URBAN IS BETTER AND FOREIGN IS THE BEST. It is not at all valid in many cases in India.

    Technology is culture specific. There are many water purification technologies available which are simple and can be readily adoptable in rural areas. One such method designed, demonstrated and disseminated is SOLAR DISINFECTION OF WATER.
    Safe Drinking Water for All
    Impure water is the root cause for many diseases especially in developing countries.
    Millions of people become sick each year from drinking contaminated water. In many
    regions of the world, sunshine is abundantly available which can be effectively utilised to
    provide safe drinking water to the millions of people. A portable, low-cost, and lowmaintenance
    solar disinfection unit to provide potable water has been designed and
    tested. The solar disinfection system has been tested with bore water, well as well as
    waste water. In 6 hours when the ambient temperature was 30 degrees Celsius, the unit eradicated 3 log 10 (99.99%) of bacteria contained in the water samples. The unit will provide about 6 liters of pure drinking water and larger units can be fabricated for providing safe drinking water at community level in developing countries.
    Every 8 seconds, a child dies from water related disease around the globe. 50% of people
    in developing countries suffer from one or more water-related diseases. 80% of diseases
    in the developing countries are caused by contaminated water. Providing safe drinking
    water to the people has been a major challenge for Governments in developing countries.
    Conventional technologies used to disinfect water are: ozonation, chlorination and
    artificial UV radiation. These technologies require sophisticated equipment, are capital
    intensive and require skilled operators (1,17,20). Boiling water requires about 1 kg of
    wood/liter of water which results in deforestation in developing countries. Also halazone
    or calcium hypochlorite tablets or solutions (sodium hypochlorite at 1 to 2 drops per liter)
    are used to disinfect drinking water. These methods are environmentally unsound or
    hygienically unsafe when performed by a layperson. Misuse of sodium hypochlorite
    solution poses a safety hazard (2,4,11).
    Treatment to control waterborne microbial contaminants by exposure to sunlight in clear
    vessels that allows the combined germicidal effects of both UV radiation and heat has
    been developed and put into practice (5,712,13,14,18,19).The SODIS system(Solar
    Disinfection of water) developed by scientists at the Swiss Federal Agency for
    Environmental Science and Technology(EAWAG) recommends placing PET bottles
    (usually discarded mineral water/beverage bottles) painted black on one side, aerating
    (oxygenating) the water by vigorous shaking three fourths water filled bottles and then
    filling them full and placing them in sunlight for 6 hours. In this method, the water is
    exposed to UV radiation in sunlight, primarily UV-A and it becomes heated; both effects
    contribute to the inactivation of water borne microbes. The use of PET bottles requires
    periodic replacement because of scratches and they become deformed if temperature
    exceeds 650C. Also dust accumulates on these bottles in the groves (provided for
    strength). The PET bottle mineral water manufacturers print on the label,ÔÇÖ crush the bottle
    after useÔÇÖ in India. Unless cleaned thoroughly everyday, PET bottles turn brown over
    usage rendering lesser transmission of sunlight.
    Microorganisms are heat sensitive. Table 1 lists up the required temperature to
    eliminate microorganisms within 1,6 or 60 minutes. It can be seen that it is not required
    to boil the water in order to kill 99.9% of the microorganisms. Heating up water to 50 -
    600C for one hour has the same effect (2,21).
    The most favorable region for solar disinfection lies between latitudes 150 N/S and 35 0
    N/S. These semi-arid regions are characterised by high solar radiation and limited cloud
    coverage and rainfall (3000 hours sunshine per year).The second most favorable region
    lies between the equator and latitude 15 0 N/S, the scattered radiation in this region is
    quite high (2500 hours sunshine per year).
    The need for a low-cost, low maintenance and effective disinfection system for providing
    safe drinking water is paramount, especially for the developing countries.
    Materials And Methods
    The innovative solar disinfection system has a wooden frame of length 2 ft,width 1 foot
    and depth 6 inches with bottom sinusoidal shaped polished stainless steel (curvature
    slightly larger than standard glass wine bottles, about 5 inches diameter) . On the front is
    fixed a glass sheet having lifting arrangement with a knob (this glass enclosure will
    protect the glass bottles from cooling down due to outside wind). There are screws which
    can be used to keep the contents airtight. On the backside a stand is fixed which will help
    the unit to be placed according to the latitude of the place for maximum solar insolation.
    In this method clear glass bottles (used wine bottles) are utilised instead of PET bottles as
    the former are easy to clean, lasts longer and are available at a low cost in India. Solar
    disinfection is more efficient in water containing high levels of oxygen; sunlight produces
    highly reactive forms of oxygen (oxygen free radicals and hydrogen peroxides) in the
    water. These reactive forms of oxygen kill the microorganisms. Aeration of water is
    achieved by shaking the 3/4 water filled bottles for about 20 seconds before they are
    filled completely.
    The unit has an advantage in that the rear reflection stainless steel will pass the light
    through the bottles a second time, to both increase exposure and eliminate shadowing.
    This reflection system will increase the light intensity minimum 2 times.
    It has been widely experimented and established by earlier researchers that at temperature
    of 500C, pathogenic microbes are inactivated. The temperatures which cause
    approximately a 1-log decrease in viability with 1 min are 550C for protozoan cysts; 600C
    for E.coli, enteric bacteria, and rotavirus; and 650C for hepatitis A virus (3,6,8,9,10,16).
    Negar Safapour and Robert H.Metcalf (15) in their extensive studies reported
    enhancement of solar water pasteurization with reflectors and the crucial role of
    temperature above 500C in the elimination of pathogens.
    The unit is placed in the south direction (in India) around 10 am with inclination equal to
    the latitude of the place. The glass bottles are filled with water three fourths and shaken
    for 20 seconds to generate oxygen and then completely filled. The water filled bottles are
    fixed with caps and put in the groves of the solar disinfection unit. The glass door is
    closed and clipped airtight. Water bottles are removed from the unit at 3 pm and taken to
    a cool place and the disinfected water transferred to a clean vessel, covered for later
    Suspended particles in the water reduce the penetration of solar radiation into the water
    and protect microorganisms from being irradiated. Solar disinfection requires relatively
    clear water with a turbidity less than 30 NTU.To remove turbidity traditional methods of
    putting the paste from seed of strichnos potatorum (Nirmal seeds) by rubbing the seed on
    a rough stone with water is used. The method is effective, turbidity settles down in half of
    an hour and the seed are available in plenty in forests in India besides being inexpensive.
    Sample Testing
    Water samples from the solar disinfection unit were tested with Most Probable Number
    (MPN) technique. To estimate the number of aerobic organisms present in water, Pour
    Plate Technique has been used.
    The test results of various water samples disinfected show 99.99% purity. In the samples from Ambattur Bore Water, Ambattur Well Water, Anna Nagar Bore
    Water and Kavaraipettai Bore Water, since they are highly contaminated, further
    dilutions were not carried out. The dilution should be done only when the MPN indicates
    more than 1100 organisms/100 ml. For these samples only log reductions can be
    calculated. As regards R.S.M.Nagar Bore Water and Thathai Manji Well Water, the
    percentage of reduction are 85 and 86.95, which indicates that the water is less
    contaminated. As MPN index shows less than 3 organisms for 100 ml, after solar
    disinfection of water, the samples are free from coli forms. The results of Avadi Waste
    Water and Perambur Waste Water show 3 log reduction (99.8%) and 4 log reduction
    (99.993%) respectively.
    For comparison PET and Glass bottles were placed with black background as well as in
    the innovative device I developed. It can be readily seen that is complete with my device compared to open.
    Eradication of coli forms from well water, bore water and waste water has been reported
    from test results. The results confirm that there is 4-log 10 reduction of coli forms in the
    waste water after solar disinfection. The experiments were conducted at
    Kavaraipettai,Tamil Nadu,India.Maximum temperature occurs around 1 pm. Though 6
    bottles were used in the system(each of 1 liter capacity),larger units with up to 100 bottles
    can be designed. The unit destroyed 99.99% of bacterial coli forms both in well water
    and waste water samples in 5 hours.
    The innovative solar disinfection system has the advantages like:
    1.The unit is portable,
    2.It is cost-effective. It can be fabricated in South India for US$ 20.The unit incorporates
    the principle of reflection to increase solar intensity and has protection from wind which
    results in temperature rise inside the unit,
    3.Larger units can be manufactured,
    4. Used glass bottles withstand higher temperatures and are available in plenty each for 2
    US cents in South India ,
    5. Since all the materials are available locally, the unit can be manufactured locally with
    local people. Temperatures above 300c occur in south India for more than 10 months in a
    year and as such this innovative solar disinfection unit will be a boon in this region.
    The project is financially supported by Science and Society Division, Department of
    Science and Technology, Government of India.
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    disinfection techniques.Water Res. 31:1398-1404.(1997).
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    Protection Agency,Washington D.C.( 1996)
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    The method and device has been widely disseminated. Any technology especially for rural areas should be:
    Appropriate Technology
    Affordable Technology
    Alternative Technology
    Accessible Technology
    Acceptable Technology
    Water is the elixir of life ÔÇô Leonardo da Vinci
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Hi Sir I want to get franchise of water ATM. Plz do the needful on imdt basic.

    Posted by: Rana Diwakar Kumar | 3 years ago | Reply