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The Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs, Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman Addressing a Post-Budget Press Conference, in New Delhi on February 01, 2021. The Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs, Anurag Singh Thakur, and Other Dignitaries were also Present (Photo Courtesy: PIB India)

By Col. Bhaskar Tatwawadi (Retd.)

The Union Budget presented by the Hon’ble Finance Minister yesterday paves the way for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals-6, Water and Sanitation. The allocation of INR 2.87 lakh crore to provide safe drinking water to 2.86 crore households in 500 cities covered under AMRUT mission and another allocation of INR 1.42 lakh crore. for waste management (including all urban waste generated)over the next five years will be utilized for a speed march towards the realization of SDG-6.

The intent is clear. The resources have been spelled out and allocated.

Now for the execution.

SDG 6

During the discussions on budget, it was mentioned that during the lockdown period of the pandemic, infrastructure projects worth INR 1.02 lakh crore. were executed and completed. Presumably, these works pertain to the transportation and healthcare sectors. What is apparent here is the creative capacity utilization of skilled and unskilled labor to meet such big targets in time.

The water and sanitation sector, however, is another story. During the last five decades, the infrastructure projects of this sector are dogged by traditional construction practices, extremely slow pace of mechanization, lack of big-ticket specialists (contractors) including EPC and design-build capability, indifferent and callous attitude of project owners (mostly state government departments), time and cost over-runs, lopsided contracting and outdated procurement processes and excruciatingly slow disputes resolution mechanisms.

Some of these aspects have been highlighted in the post-budget discussions. There is an urgent need to address these issues if the momentum to reach the SDG-6 is to be preserved and indeed improved progressively. Strengthening the small and medium-size contractors with skilled manpower, machines, and tools for civil construction is the need of the hour.

Another very crucial aspect is the skilling of the technicians and operators for the operation of the water supply utilities, wastewater reclamation plants, fecal and waste sludge management facilities, solid waste management, and bio-mining of legacy waste –dump sites. If this capacity is not created among the workers, it will lead to disasters. The skilling has to commence immediately through the several existing vocational institutions and many more may be needed at the district level for training of the local utility staff.

Quality assurance and adherence to service level benchmarks of these utilities is another vital aspect of the SDG-6. Several new testing facilities and laboratories will need to be created and manned. Their accreditation and adherence to international standards is another empowering factor that has to be efficiently managed.

Industry-Academia-Field Staff is the trinity that, when acting in unison and in a coordinated manner can deliver fantastic results. Co-opting the engineering institutions of the country to navigate the projects through the glorious civil engineering uncertainties will immensely help project executives.

We have learned to live by IoT, SMART practices, Big Data, Block-chain, smartphones, remote access; and have learned to cope up with several hitherto unknown impediments like distances, time zones, and communications. All of these, when properly harnessed have the potential to boost our efforts to reach and overcome SDG-6.

SDG Goal 6: Infographic, Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs

About the Author

Col. Bhaskar Tatwawadi (Retd.) is the Technical Director at Tandon Urban Solutions Pvt. Ltd. in Mumbai, India. An army veteran and a Civil Engineer from VNIT Nagpur with a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering (with Honors) from IIT Roorkee, he has over 45 years of professional experience.

His 22 years stint in the Army, Corps of Engineers, included the construction of water treatment plants and the design of many sewerage and sewage treatment projects for military, naval, and air stations. Later, he has worked on many projects in water and wastewater management including the design and execution of rural and urban water supply and sanitation schemes, the Visakhapatnam Industrial Water Supply Project (1998), construction of the BWSSB Water Treatment Plant of 300 MLD (2000 -01) and the first Chennai Metro-water Seawater Reverse Osmosis Plant of 100 MLD (2007). He has led design teams for several industrial wastewaters to recycle projects for automobiles and textiles industries.

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