Poonawalla’s clean initiative to take up water purification, toilets for women

For someone who is the CEO of a family-owned business that makes 50 per cent of the world’s demand for vaccines, and is the son of the fifth richest man in the country, resting on his laurels would have been the easiest thing to do. But Adar Poonawala is driven by a dream to clean up the city, which has been home to the family for decades. Not only has he committed ₹100 crore of personal funds to address garbage, the bane of most Indian cities, he is committing a more precious resource – his time.

Six months after launching the Adar Poonawala Clean initiative, he is ready to take it to the next level. This will involve pilots to use CNG generated from waste to run municipal buses, convert scrapped buses into toilets for women and treat sewage water to make it fit for drinking.

In an interview to BusinessLine, Adar detailed his ideas for a cleaner and greener city. Excerpts:

Q:How have you deployed the money that you planned to spend?

A:We have 111 machines (the half-way mark), which is a combination of ‘Glutton’ suction machines imported from Belgium (for the first time in India), a fleet of customised Tata trucks mounted with even bigger vacuum machines sourced from Holland, and Johnston (from Britain) sweepers, amongst others, to manage the dry road waste (the municipal corporation handles most of the wet waste).

As of now, we are covering 30 per cent of the city’s streets. In the next six months we will cover at least 50 per cent, and within 18 months the entire city.

All the dry waste is sent to the PMC transfer station. Organic waste, which is half of the 1,800 tonnes of solid waste generated in the city, is processed and then transported to a plant in Talegoan managed and owned by Nobel Exchange, which converts wet waste into CNG.

At full capacity, it can process 300 tonnes of waste, making it the largest bio-gas plant in India. Right now we are operating at 100 tonnes.

We will sell the gas to the municipality at a discounted rate and municipal commissioner Kunal Kumar is currently working on a pilot to run municipal buses on this CNG.

Q:Serum Institute does not have any ad spend. But given that this campaign can succeed better with greater awareness, do you have any plans for this?

A:Yes, we do. We have tied up with Dharma Productions, and Karan Johar has come out with ads that will be aired on news channels. We also want to use social media to raise awareness and bring in citizens’ participation.

Without that , I realised it is impossible. There isn’t enough money in the world or Krishnans (CEO of the clean initiative), to manage it.

Q:You have expanded the initial scope of your work to a bigger ‘clean’ initiative. So what else is there on the anvil?

A:We are taking scrapped buses and refurbishing them to provide three-four toilets, and one or two shower cubicles, for women at a nominal cost. It will also have a small ‘waiting’ lounge. The bus will remain at a location the whole day and get cleaned every night.

We will start as a ten-bus pilot in November in partnership with the PMC, which will provide power, water and parking. I am going to pay for and service the buses.

The idea is that in around three-four years, the entire waste management and clean initiatives should be a self-sustaining business.

Q:You mentioned something about converting sewage water into potable water…

A:This is a long-term initiative – it should be launched in around four months. The idea is to provide clean drinking water to the tune of 1-2 million litres per day to people around Pune.

I am investing ₹10 crore in two pilot plants with capacity to process 4 million litres per day. We have tied up with Aquatech and will use membrane technology to treat sewage water from rivers and convert it into drinkable water.

Water is going to be a scarce resource every year, and I want to use technology as a pillar come out with solutions.

I will use half this water for my industry, instead of using a borewell or the municipal water, and give the rest to anyone who wants it on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Q:What is the reception the initiative has received? And what is your reward?

A:It has largely been received very well. We have had local issues with some Corporators; while some have been very grateful. Others seek more details before permitting such activity in their areas.

The initiative has been applauded, but if I see a behavioural change with participation from people and more engagement from Corporations, that would be my reward.

Source: The Hindu Business Line (22th July 2016)