Ratan Tata, father of Nano, dream car of the less- affluent, has another cause close to his heart- lack of access to safe drinking water for millions of Indians. For some years, Tata and his team have been striving to find a low-cost solution to this problem, via a water purification system.
Group company TCS developed a rice husk ash-based water filter at the Pune-based Tata Research Development and Design Centre. Asia's largest software services firm has also introduced these filters in India's thirsty areas, like Maharashtra. The product was patented by TCS in 2005-06.
Here, a simple method to provide potable water, making use of commonly available materials like rice husk ash, cement and pebbles is the modus operandi. The filtering medium is made up of rice husk ash, which contains activated silica and carbon. This helps remove color, odor and microorganisms. The system costs less than Rs 200.
Tata Industries has identified opportunities in water, which includes making seawater drinkable and purifying sewage into potable water. Tata Projects is also setting up drinking water plants to treat subterranean water polluted by fluoride (defloridation units) in rural areas of Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. This is as part of a community initiative.
Similar to Jusco, a part of Tata Steel which oversees water operations in Jamshedpur, Tata Chemicals too is viewing similar projects in areas with chronic water shortage. It also plans to develop water purification systems.
Not lately, Tata Tea entered the packaged water business by acquiring the Himalaya water brand.
The water purification market is of late proving exciting to multinationals. Hindustan Unilever launched Pureit in 2005, while Philips India launched Philips Intelligent Water Purifier in 2007. Currently, Aquaguard -a previous Tata enterprise is the leader in this category, where the penetration of water purifiers is a mere 2.5 %.