Monday, November 19, 2007

Water: Waste Not, Want Not !

Location of steel plants is generally decided upon the proximity to two most important resources – iron ore and coking coal. Surprisingly, the third one – water which is emerging as critical resource is not always given proper consideration. Water scarcity is flaring up often as a serious crisis in several parts of India despite floods ravaging the country for decades. Industrialization has worsened the situation as power and steel plants spring up which are water guzzlers.
Now that India is poised to emerge as the second largest steel producer in the world attaining 180 million tones of annual production by 2016, the crisis of water is going to aggravate with 3-4 mega projects of 6-12 million tones capacities along with dozen of smaller capacities being put on the anvil.
The states rich in iron ore deposits having wooed investors for new steel projects are in an unenviable position. The case of the state of Jharkhand serves best to exemplify. It was reported that 11 companies including Tata Steel and Jindal Power and Steel Ltd have applied to draw water from Subernarekha which has the flow of 1520 million cubic meter (MCM) water against the demand of 1667 MCM. Officials said that nearly 329 MCM is being drawn from the river for irrigation, 220 MCM for potable water and 150 MCM for industrial use.
Indian steel industry’s water usage is abysmally poor. For producing one tonne of steel, according to CSE, steel companies in India use 10-80 cubic meter water where as US plants use only 5-10 cubic meter water. Moreover, approximately 80-85 per cent fresh water used in steel making in India is discharged as effluent although over 90-95 per cent water used for steel making in USA is recycled.
Steel is necessary for development but water is essential for life. For sustainable development, the steel industry in India would have to learn to conserve water and use new technology to minimize its use just as it struggles to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming and protect the environment. India’s quantum jump in steel production from 51 million tones to 180 million tones will call for celebration only when the scarce water resources are judiciously used without triggering social conflicts and causing miseries to millions of common man.
It may be recalled that someone had perhaps rightly warned “The Third World War would most probably be fought over water”. Let not steel industry be the villain of piece!