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We have Played a Role in Transforming India’s Water Sector: Shyam Bhan, CEO, SUEZ India

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SUEZ Group has been present in India for more than 30 years now. It has designed and built more than 250 water and wastewater treatment plants and currently operates 23 of them. SUEZ also plays the role of a water services provider for major municipalities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, New Delhi and Kolkata. Its activities contribute towards the distribution of 5 billion litres of drinking water to over 44 million people every day. The wastewater treatment services of the plants built and managed by the company serve some 5.5 million inhabitants. Its water services expertise has benefitted 15 million people across major metros in India, and it employs over 900 professionals in the country.

Recently India has been trying to position itself as a leader on climate change in the global arena. How do you see SUEZ’s role in supporting the Government of India’s efforts?
Mr. Bhan: Today, India is going through major environmental challenges resulting from the exponential growth in population, exploding urbanization, climate change, scarcity of resources, etc. As a global leader in water and waste resource management with over 30 years of experience of working with municipal corporations in India, we have solid understanding of the market needs and the ability to provide sustainable solutions based on excellent customer service and commercial efficiency. We are confident that with this, we will be able to provide smarter and sustainable solutions in some key areas like waste management desalination, wastewater treatment industrial water, water distribution, network operation, etc.

SUEZ has been in India for 30 years. How has the journey been for the company so far?
Mr. Bhan: Over the last three decades, we have built more than 750 state-of-the-art water and wastewater treatment plants for local authorities and industries. SUEZ activities contribute towards the distribution of 5 billion litres of drinking water every day to over 44 million people in India. The wastewater treatment services of the plants built and managed by the company serve some 7.5 million inhabitants. More than one-third of population in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore drink water produced from plants built by SUEZ.

From being the market leader of Design, Build and Operation of water and wastewater treatment infrastructure over the last three decades, SUEZ has now established itself as the leader of water distribution and services business. Apart from working with utilities in cities like New Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, etc., the company recently won two major long-term water services contracts worth 500 million Euros in Coimbatore and Davangere. These two projects can potentially become excellent templates for replication in other parts of the country. These cities will benefit from SUEZ’s expertise, world-class technologies and operational excellence, making a direct impact on millions of people by supplying safe drinking water and ensuring much improved interface with the utilities’ staff for their grievances and issues and better revenue management for the local authorities.

You are a veteran in the environment industry with more than 25 years of experience. What steps, in your opinion, must the government take to motivate more private sector investment in waste management?
Mr. Bhan: I believe that the investment climate at the municipal level needs to be improved significantly before private sector investments in waste management projects become viable. The payment security mechanism continues to be a serious issue. It is very important to ensure sustainable cash flows for the municipality, including user charges for all municipal services, which are ring-fenced for timely project payments.

Almost all waste management projects have failed in the last two decades and there is need to develop some marquee projects for demonstration effect. In this context, the government should develop model contract agreement for integrated waste management, including resource recovery and waste to energy plants, giving due importance to project viability.

Land acquisition for waste projects is a major issue, and many municipal waste management projects are facing delays due to this problem. Our suggestion is to have a Regulator at Federal and/or State Government to assist the cities in development and execution of these projects.

Do you see much growth for water companies? What are some of your recommendations to improve the water sector?
Mr. Bhan: As digital technology enhances citizens’ access to information, they are increasingly expressing their concerns for environment and calling on public and private actors to act more responsibly. The global aspiration for a less resource-intensive and environmentally-friendly growth model have led to evolution of stricter environmental regulations. These dynamics have, of course, created a potential market for environmental services companies like SUEZ.

In India, there is over-emphasis on building new assets and less emphasis on long-term sustainability of existing assets through effective O&M practices. As an Operator, SUEZ always focuses on optimal usage of capital funds and works towards improved service delivery to the citizens. Our suggestion to cities and their utilities is to structure projects with performance orientation that directly benefits the citizens.

Desalination plants in coastal cities should be developed with appropriate structuring of risk-reward balance for the private sector. Blend AMRUT and other federal Government funds to make such projects viable on PPP basis.

From our experience of working in various cities, we felt that there should be a nodal body to coordinate with all stakeholders for effective execution: city water distribution projects are complex and require permissions/permits from multiple public entities, such as state PWD, Traffic police, Municipal Corporations (water utility is often different from municipality in many states), Development Authorities, etc. Lack of coordination among these entities result in inordinate delay in road cutting and pipe laying activities.

What are some of the objectives you have set for yourself?
Mr. Bhan: I believe companies like us have a lot of potential to grow in India. We will keep on looking for fresh opportunities with our typical characteristic of a total service provider with proven global records, which does not believe in making compromises to bag anything. We want to grow in a sustainable and reasonably profitable manner.

I am equally committed to the growth and development of our employees as I believe ‘happy employees make happy customers’. Health and Safety and women empowerment are two areas which are very close to me and I would like to see SUEZ excel in these two areas.

(Source: The Indian Express)

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