Last weekend we went to Eat Street. Eat street is a popular food court on Necklace road in Hyderabad. It is on the banks of Hussain Sagar, a large man-made lake built over 500 years ago in Hyderabad. The lake and its surrounding areas have been developed into various recreational centers and parks. It serves as a popular weekend unwinding destination for the Hyderabadi crowd.
There is a good choice of food available there from several outlets. Wife went around and zeroed in on a very interesting and exotic looking potato fry on a stick – A Tornado Potato. It is one of those things that entice you with its presentation only. The substance, as we found later, was just deep fried potatoes.
Wife ordered it. While that was getting ready, we occupied the chairs towards the side of the lake. I just looked down at the lake and could not believe my eyes. Every type of plastic - bottles, packs, straws, cups, polythene bags - was littered there on the bank.
This lake like numerous other lakes in and around Hyderabad is actually dying. While other lakes in the city are dying due to one reason - encroachment, Hussain Sagar is dying because of pollution. Industrial effluents and domestic sewage finds its way into this lake through some of its inlet streams. Today, no one would even dare to touch the water from Hussain Sagar. If you travel in the Hyderabad MMTS towards Secunderabad, there is a stretch where the train crosses the Hussain Sagar. The stench there is unbearable. If you look down to the stream running into Hussain Sagar, it is covered with filth and black muck. The sight is enough to make you puke. It is difficult to imagine that this lake once provided drinking water to the city. I do not think this could have happened in the last 30-40 years. This must have been the case may be a century ago.
Water pollution has become a huge problem now. I remember that in my childhood, we used to drink the tap water directly. No filter, nothing in between, but just pure unadulterated water. Water used to gush out of municipal supply tanks in schools, parks, railway stations, temples and other public spaces. We used to drink it. Free. Best part was that there were no charges - hidden or otherwise. We guzzled the water straight from the tap. I know, you may be turning your nose up now by reading this. But it was quite common in those days to drink water the municipal water. There was no real fear of drinking polluted water as such. No one ever had any compunction drinking that water. Some people used to filter water by simple mechanical filters.
But, by the late eighties/early nineties, water pollution started raising its ugly head in India. With industrial waste and domestic sewage diverted directly to rivers and seas, slowly, over years of abuse, the water resources started getting so contaminated that by the mid-nineties, tap water became simply untouchable.
Overnight, the simple mechanical filter of yesteryears gave way to electronic filtration system using UV light and other technologies. Over the years, as water contamination kept increasing, these water purification systems became more and more sophisticated and even more expensive. Today, an electronic water purifier costs anywhere between INR 6000 to INR 20000. A normal mechanical purifier costs around INR 2000.
These days, there is no place for public goods. When the brain starts thinking, every idea becomes a monetization opportunity. Water is a business with super normal profits. Wherever you go, you find the ubiquitous disposable polythene packets and plastic water bottles. While it is of no less concern that being non-biodegradable, these plastics pose a separate threat to our environment, what is equally worrisome is the malpractices that are happening in the bottled water business. There have been instances of unscrupulous, unlicensed bottled water businesses sprouting across homes and supplying plain tap water in cans to unsuspecting consumers. Unaware of this, most of the road-side eateries and many middle class residents today still use these 20 liter cans or water for their cooking and drinking purpose. Each of these cans cost at least from INR 20 to INR 80 depending on its source and brand.
The founding fathers of our country wanted to have a sovereign, free and egalitarian society. But in this age of consumerism, nothing is free. In our country almost 30% of the population subsists on less than a half-a-dollar a day. Is it possible for them to buy clean drinking water? No. They cannot. But does this mean, we leave out the bottom 30% of our population who cannot afford to spend 20 bucks on water daily? Should water be available only to those who can afford to pay more? Is this the society we plan to build?
I doubt that our previous generations ever even in their wildest dream thought that their progeny will have to pay for plain water.
There are still some people who know that problems are all we need to make lives meaningful. Some beautiful people think from their heart, and not from their brain. With their perseverance, even insurmountable difficulties give way. I believe that when thinking starts from the heart, not from the brain, the ideas and innovation that sprout becomes a gift to the society. Suprio Das from Kolkata has given one such wonderful gift to the society. He took the problem of providing clean drinking water to the poor head on and came up with an innovative solution.
Do check out Suprio Das’s inspiring story in this Video at TEDxGateway Mumbai.
How wonderful would it be if we all think from our heart! Would you ?
This post is written as part of ‘The Idea Caravan’ organized by Indibloggers with Franklin Templeton Investments. Franklin Templeton Investments partnered with the TEDxGateway Mumbai organized in December 2012.