Dutch Queen visits water ATM projects

Queen Maxima from The Netherlands trying her hand at the Sarvajal water ATM in Delhi on Monday. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty  

As she marched through the messy lanes of a North-West Delhi resettlement colony wearing a pair of heels, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands was all business.

The Queen visited the Sarvajal plant in Sawda Ghevra on Monday to see how the innovative water ATMs work. She is in Delhi in her role as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development.

The Queen was first shown around the reverse osmosis plant and then walked about 200 metres to one of the ATMs in the community to see it in action. While security personnel made a cordon around her, residents lined the streets and children ran along to get a glimpse of the European royal.

Sarvajal chief operating officer Anuj Sharma explained how the plant works, from the borewell to the ATMs.

He also said that the quality and quantity of the water produced was being monitored from the company’s Ahmedabad office through real-time data.

Though she was impressed by the initiative, the Queen asked: “What about the water being wasted?” Mr. Sharma assured her that Sarvajal was a “zero-discharge” facility as all the waste water was diverted into a recharge pit along with rain water.

The Queen questioned the Sarvajal staff on the franchisee model adopted by them in other parts of India. She worked as a banker in New York before marrying King Willem-Alexander, who himself is interested in water issues. He has been the patron of the World Bank’s Global Water Partnership.

The water ATMs in the colony are operated by a pre-paid card that can be topped up at the plant or at one of the three vendors in the area. At the plant, users pay Rs.3 for 20 litres, while at the ATMs they pay Rs.6.

“So far, we have made 1,000 cards. We are reaching one-sixth of the families in the colony, but this is a 10-year project. It will take time to reach out to more people and to break even,” said Mr. Sharma.

While consumers in the area are slowly taking to the ATMs for drinking water, they still rely on illegal borewells and the Delhi Jal Board’s tanker service for the rest. A young resident, Santosh Kumar, said: “We take four or five litres of water from the ATMs everyday. It tastes better than the tanker water, but that is free.”

Before Sarvajal set up shop in the colony, the 1,000 families were like others in the area, getting into daily fights for water when the DJB’s tankers arrived. Now, residents said they didn’t have to wait in line and waste time just to fill up their water containers.

As she heard about the challenges and achievements of the project, Mr. Sharma remarked that the “real test would be if the Queen trusted the water quality herself”. On a blazing day, the Queen not only “trusted” the water source, but welcomed the drink.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 2:08:33 PM |

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