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Private firm allowed to draw Periyar water

By G. Krishnakumar

KOCHI SEPT. 8. The State Government's decision to allow a private company to draw 50,000 litres of water at the rate of Re. 1 per litre from River Periyar for its bottling plants sanctioned at Aluva and Piravom has kicked up another controversy.

Earlier, the Government had shelved the proposal for a Cochin Industrial Water Supply Scheme (CIWSS) following protests from various quarters.

It is learnt that the proposal to welcome private groups to start drinking water bottling plants was made without conducting any feasibility studies.

The State Government has relaunched its programme to privatise the Periyar with its decision to allow bottling plants in Aluva and Piravom after the Cochin Industrial Water Supply Scheme (CIWSS) was shelved early this year following protests from various quarters.

There are indications that the proposal to welcome private groups to start drinking water bottling plants was made without conducting feasibility studies for the project.

The Government has also rejected a proposal that Kerala Water Authority (KWA) should be a steady supply of water from the Periyar due to seasonal variations in water availability.

According to the latest proposal, the Government allows the private company to bottle 50,000 litres of water from each of the plants to be located in Aluva and Piravom. The Government will charge Re.1 per litre of water from the Periyar.

According to the Periyar Action Plan, it is difficult to draw large quantities of water for drinking purpose owing to the decrease in discharge rates especially during the Summer months.

Discharge rate in Aluva has been rated by experts as negative during the Summer. Experts also say that it would not be possible to draw more than 250 mld of water for drinking purpose during the period. Moreover, about 25 per cent of the State's industries are located along the banks of the Periyar.

KWA sources said that any new project based near Aluva treatment plant would be difficult as Kochi already faces acute shortage of drinking water. Major projects, including HUDCO drinking water supply scheme, are hanging fire for shortage of funds. According to estimates, around 250 mld of is pumped from Aluva against a demand for 450 mld in the Greater Kochi region. KWA has been able to provide only around 100 mld of water against the actual demand for 180 mld in the Ernakulam city, sources said.

The Government decision to allow private parties to establish bottling plants in Aluva, Piravom, Aruvickara and Kozhikode is considered as part of moves to privatise drinking water supply sector in the State.

Sources said that a latest proposal to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the authority and the State Government could perhaps open up rural and urban drinking water schemes in the State to private agencies.

The Government move to establish drinking water bottling units in the private sector comes at a time when there is an ongoing debate whether to allow private agencies to commercially exploit the State's water resources.

The proposals included in the bottling water project also seem to favour the investors in a big way. KWA would lease land for implementation of the project. The private group would also be allowed to market the product. According to the proposals, KWA would only monitor the marketing of bottled water.

Sources said this move had been made overruling a proposal that the authority should be in charge of marketing bottled water. KWA's intervention would have helped in bringing down the prices of bottled water in the market, sources said.

The CIWSS introduced during the Global Investor Meet (GIM) was supposed to undertake supply of water to various industrial units, commercial establishments and other bulk consumers in the Greater Kochi area.

A total of 250 mld (million litres per day) capacity has been planned in the initial phase (150 mld-first phase, 100 mld-second phase).

The project beneficiaries listed by the KSIDC include marine processing units, industrial units in Cochin Special Economic Zone (CSEZ), Kinfra parks, the Southern Naval Command, Cochin Port and Indian Railways.

The Government had decided to shelve the Rs. 250 crore project after it met with opposition from environment groups and the Opposition.

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