Cement factories utilise huge natural resources and that includes water. Niranjan Mudholkar met Pearl Tiwari, VP (CSR), Ambuja Cements Ltd & director, Ambuja Cement Foundation to find out what her company is doing different at its several plants
A report from NASA confirmed that the northern states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi are losing about one foot ground water level every year. Approximately 109 cubic km of ground water has been depleted during 2002 to 2008. The key reason for this alarming situation is the use of ground water (primarily for irrigation) faster than it can be balanced by rainwater.
Now look at the adjacent picture; it is rather contrary. Actually, both the NASA report and the above picture are factual in their depiction. The picture – of one of the many water resource management projects done by the Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) – shows an overflowing check-dam in one of the driest regions of India, Junagadh.
Founded in 1993 as the corporate social responsibility (CSR) wing of Ambuja Cements Ltd, the ACF works with the rural communities surrounding Ambuja’s manufacturing sites. ACF is involved in a several people-centric, integrated rural development projects with water resource management being a key focus area.
“Our work is guided by the requirements and aspirations of the locals and our philosophy of encouraging and engaging communities to realise their potential and thus positively impact their life,” says Pearl Tiwari, VP (CSR), Ambuja Cements Ltd & director, ACF. It is this thought that drives the ACF to undertake water projects in the dry regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan. “Our aim is to build capacity amongst the local communities and not make them dependent on us,” adds Tiwari. Capacity building is driven by an approach of partnering – not competing – with all agencies – government, NGOs, activists, donors and even international organisations.
ACF’s water resource management programme includes a combination of different activities like constructing check-dams, percolation tanks, KT weirs, crate weirs, roof rain water harvesting structures (RRWHS) and, deepening and de-silting of ponds.
Although each of ACF’s water projects is important in its own way, projects in Gujarat and Rajasthan are particularly important from the water resource management perspective. Salinity ingress combined with the water scarcity had become a crisis in Junagadh. The situation – as the NASA report pointed out – had resulted due excessive exploitation of water resources.
A comprehensive approach was taken to tackle the crisis, says Tiwari. Check dams were constructed in villages that had a coastline as well as seasonal rivers. Existing ponds were deepened and interlinked, new ponds and percolation tanks were created, and all this was done through active involvement of the local people.
Construction of dykes on seasonal rivers was another innovative method adopted by the ACF in these states. Dykes are underground structures that help in increasing the underground groundwater level over large tracts of land. ACF has also extensively used the concept of RRWHS to tackle the perennial problem of drinking water in the villages of Junagadh as well as Rajasthan.
As a result of these well-directed efforts coupled with positive community mobilisation, the water scarcity problem has been comprehensively solved in more than 500 villages. “These projects are successful because they are sustainable, cost-effective, replicable and have been developed and implemented with direct community participation,” remarks Tiwari.
The results are tangible; these projects have brought positive and long-term changes in the lives of villagers. While analysts predict that water is the next oil, it makes sense in noting (and replicating) such efforts. After all, the construction industry is the biggest user of water.