Sandeep Jaiswal from IIT Madras talks to Madhuvanti Krishnan about winning the second place for his social enterprise Amrutdhara in the National Students Challenge 2013.

When one thinks of a railway station, the immediate picture that comes to an individual’s mind is that of people teeming around one of the make-shift shops in the station, haggling with the vendor for a bottle of water. It is common to see yet others drinking out of taps before they hurriedly rush back to their train. Can you imagine a social enterprise which makes available at the same railway platform, a litre of clean, healthy drinking water for Rs.3?

The idea of such a social enterprise, Amrutdhara, is exactly what helped Sandeep Jaiswal’s three-member team bag the second prize in the National Students Challenge 2013 conducted by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) earlier this month in Bangalore.

“Along with my teammates Akshay Roomta and Minhaj Ameen, I came up with our social enterprise Amrutdhara a year ago for reducing the use of bottled water by offering a safe, cost-effective, and environment-friendly alternative to the plastic bottles that people usually purchase,” explains Sandeep, a final-year student of Civil Engineering from IIT Madras. “The competition conducted by IIHS happened just by chance. It offered us the right kind of experience and impetus we needed, to popularise Amrutdhara,” he adds.

Sandeep points out how bottled water is not always affordable but rather expensive, the quality of bottled water is questionable, and the plastic bottles contribute heavily to the existing problem of solid waste in the country.

Effective alternatives

“We were aware of how the only way to reduce the purchase of bottled water was to come up with a more effective alternative, and consequently, Amrutdhara was born. We will tackle such problems by setting up water stations run by vendors in public places like bus stands, railway stations, etc. As a litre of water will cost no more than Rs.3, people will be persuaded to carry reusable bottles and avoid the purchase of plastic bottles,” he adds.

Ask Sandeep about how the National Students Challenge has helped the team, and pat comes his reply, “When we got to know that IIHS was conducting the competition, we decided to participate. We figured that we would get an opportunity to interact with a lot of like-minded people from different places, get to know about their ideas, and also receive professional guidance from mentors at IIHS. We were not disappointed.”

Participating in the tournament and being declared runner-ups was the crowning glory for Sandeep’s team. “We were quite confident about winning as we were well ahead of the game in terms of the research that we had conducted for the last one year. The consumer surveys we had conducted as part of our research had given us some good insights, and it played a major role in shaping our win,” explains Sanjay. “The knowledge that we have garnered from participating in the tournament, the feedback and guidance that our mentors gave us, the innumerable interactions we had with our fellow participants have added up to an enriching experience.”

Winning the competition is not the end for Sandeep and his team. They are determined to make Amrutdhara a reality. “Villgro’s Entrepreneur, one of India’s oldest and foremost social enterprise incubators and IIT Madras have been supporting our venture. Now, thanks to our win, IIHS has extended its support as well. We have been involved in talks with the government, and the response has been heartening. We are looking forward to making progress soon,” smiles Sandeep.