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Friday, March 16, 2012

Is Chennai enjoying the largesse of desalination plant after so many years ?

Every Budget raises expectations and the speech of the Finance Minister is heard and read many many times.  But do the proposed or promised plans really materialize to benefit the citizens ??

Water – the availability of potable water is a regular crisis especially for major cities which do not have a good water source.  Chennai in particular always suffer from drinking water problem, whenever there are droughts.  Often desalination is touted as the easy way out.  Desalination through a series of processes removes major amount of salt and other minerals from the saline water. 

Daily Mail reports of a Desalination plant  that will turn seawater from the Thames Estuary into drinking water for one million people as drought hits. The facility in Beckton, east London,  has the capacity to produce 150million litres every day and is set to begin operating in next few weeks.  More than 20million Britons face stringent hosepipe bans this summer as the current drought shows no signs of letting up.  Drinking water is scarce, so is water difficult to find for use to wash cars or fill paddling pools.  The desalination plant at Beckton, East London is reportedly made with £270million and can provide 150million litres a day, enough to supply 400,000 households in North-East London.  Clearly the existing resources from non-tidal rivers and groundwater – simply aren’t enough to match predicted demand in London.  So they are resorting to the new and limitless resource of the tidal Thames, fed by the rolling oceans beyond.  In making this feasible, 300 nos. number of ant hills had been moved and repositioned from the site.  The project, the first of its kind in the UK, was proposed following the drought of 2005/06 and took four years to build.    It works by taking water from the outgoing tide of the River Thames when it much less salty and treats it using various cleaning and filtering processes.  Salt is removed using a process called reverse osmosis. This involves forcing the water at high pressure through very fine membranes, which hold back the salt and other molecules. The treated water is then re-mineralised so that it has similar properties to other local supplies. The resulting water is slightly softer than normal.
The water is then purified to ensure it is safe to drink, before being released into the supply network.

That is good governance – but don’t you feel the process and terminology appear more too similar.

Yes, because you have heard them before and you believed that it was to be a largesse as announced by the then FM P Chidambaram.  Years ago, as it was with  the surface and groundwater options either running dry or proving highly undependable, Chennai also looked towards the sea.   There are some smaller ones functional and varying estimates were provided with different technology based desalination plants  -  Budgetary support to Tamil Nadu’s giant desalination project  was announced.  In 2008, the residents reacted with joy on the announcement of  setting apart of Rs 300 crore by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in his  budget to begin work on a mega sea water desalination project near Chennai under public-private partnership.  It was also stated that every State in the South wanted similar plants in their areas and more than a dozen applications were pending with the Ministry of Water resources.  Madras a la Chennai was favoured by PC – so one thought !! 

In her earlier regime Ms J Jayalalithaa had criticized Finance Minister P. Chidambaram,  for prematurely saying that the central government was ready to give Tamil Nadu Rs. 10 billion (rupees) for setting up a desalination plant, and doing nothing to prevent the stalling tactic used by A Raja.  There were cries from a section that the 100 million litres a day desalination plant would quench the thirst of city but would do harm by greenhouse emissions as also the price would be beyond the reach of the poor.   One tends to get more confused with the dates as another report of ET in July 2004, reports of the Budget gift of FM running into saline waters.  It states that  Finance minister P Chidambaram's Budget gift of Rs 1,000-crore desalination plant for Chennai is starting to face its first roadblocks.  Envisaged to be implemented through public-private partnership, the project is learnt to be facing lukewarm response from potential investors who say the project, on the face of it, is likely to generate an internal rate of return (IRR) of only 9%.  The report mentions that the  total cost of the project is actually Rs 1,550 crore on account of an additional cost of Rs 300 crore for a captive power plant and Rs 250 crore for transmission pipelines and associated pumping. The 300 MLD plant will be set up in modules of 100 MLD.  At this stage, the project embraces the Reverse Osmosis (RO) technology for seawater desalination which is said to deliver the cheapest cost of treated water due to the relatively lower cost of the plant and lower energy consumption. However, experts also say that operating costs are higher for the RO technology. 

So for Tamil Nadu, it is more of hearing of a largesse in Budget speech and then waiting through the ordeal to realize that nothing happens to alleviate their suffering.   The Summer onset is about to come and alongside the woes of residents of the city for good drinking water and water for other needs

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
16th Mar 2012.

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