Leaders Talk

We are ready to help the govts and the ULBs to take up more projects to address the issue of supply and demand

Ramya Narayanan

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9 min read
Mr Rajneesh Chopra is the Global Head – Business Development in VA TECH WABAG Ltd, a leading MNC offering life cycle solutions to industries and municipalities in water and wastewater treatment. WABAG has its presence across four continents and has a successful track record of executing projects in 30 countries. He is on the board of various subsidiaries and joint ventures of WABAG actively contributing to ensure growth and profitability of these entities. Mr Chopra is responsible for corporate strategy and strategic alliances with global players, developers and concessionaire globally. He is also involved in policy advocacy with key decision makers and governments to make water and wastewater projects more sustainable and is responsible for large project development for WABAG Group Mr Chopra holds a bachelor’s degree in Science from University of Delhi, India and possesses over three decades of professional experience in water and wastewater management in consumer, industrial, municipal and desalination segments. He has a proven track record of managing business, building new business and turning around businesses successfully back on profitable growth. Here in an interview, he elaborates about how WABAG a pure-play water technology multinational offering a wide range of solutions focused on conservation, optimisation, recycling and reuse of resources, directed at addressing water challenges across the world. Mr Chopra also emphasises on research and development, innovations and the experience gained from various projects.
Rajneesh Chopra
Rajneesh Chopra
Q

What do you think are the pressing water problems in India currently?

A

One of the major water problems that India is currently faced with is the shortage of drinking water and extreme stress on freshwater sources, owing to the burgeoning population coupled with the erratic rainfall patterns. However, the government has been proactive in identifying and addressing the issue. Govt. launched the Jal Jeevan Mission with the objective of providing 100% Functional Household Tap Connections (FHTC) to all rural households by 2024.

Extremely low levels of wastewater collection and treatment is another pressing issue in India, where currently only 37% of total wastewater generated is treated. Wastewater treatment not only ensures a healthy environment by pollution abatement, but also opens up the scope for recycle and reuse of wastewater. The huge gap in the wastewater treatment opens up major avenues for Reuse of Treated Wastewater (TWW) across aquifer recharge, use as service water, irrigation, horticulture and even industrial use. In fact, industrial water demand is one of the major concerns which often suffer due to the lack of water availability. Therefore, industrial water security can be ensured through recycle and reuse of TWW, which stands as an alternative, uninterrupted source of water supply. A proven example of the same is Koyambedu TTRO in Chennai. Built and operated by WABAG, the TTRO plant recycles the secondary treated sewage and supplies the treated water to industrial clusters in south Chennai, thus promoting municipal – industrial partnerships and ensuring industrial water security.

To boost the freshwater supply, desalination emerges as an excellent source of reliable water supply. India is blessed with a huge coastal line of 7500km, and the same can be leveraged to set up desalination plants across the coastal states, both for Municipal Potable use and for Captive Industrial Use.

Q

What do you think is the importance of your work in the context of the current Covid-19 epidemic?

A

The current COVID-19 pandemic has reiterated that water and sanitation is imperative to public health. Hand washing and personal hygiene assumed the top priority, and this led to an exponential demand from the domestic side, even as the industries were shut due to the lockdown. Even during the strictest of the lockdowns, water supply was declared as an essential service and all our plants were operational at their 100%, and in some cases more than 100% capacity 24x7.

Our COVID warriors braved through the tough conditions faced with and continued to extend their services at all times in partnership with the local authorities to ensure the safety and hygiene of the people. Our COVID warriors helped assure uninterrupted water and sanitation for the people, enabling them to stay indoors whilst ensuring the lockdown was successful in containing the spread of the pandemic.

Q

What are your plans for the future?

A

We have said this on record that our vision is to be among the Top 3 Pure Play Water Technology Players globally. Today, we have built over 1,400 plants worldwide and currently produce over 26 million m3 of water, treat over 30 million m3 of wastewater and Recycle 2.5 million m3 of wastewater each day.

Our order book currently stands at INR 10,700 Cr which gives us excellent revenue visibility of 2.5x. Hence, going forward, our focus will be on quality execution of these orders, while selectively targeting jobs which suit our business interest. WABAG, being a pure-play water technology company, will look to target high-technology jobs, which will improve our order book and boost our margins as well.

Q

Tell us a little bit about the R&D at VA Tech Wabag. Where do you source your technology from? Is it developed in-house? What kind of CAPEX do you have for R&D?

A

WABAG over the years has been known for its technical expertise worldwide, backed by comprehensive R&D and proven global references which have successfully demonstrated our technological prowess. Currently we have 3 R&D centres – Chennai in India, Vienna and Switzerland. We have tie-ups with several leading development partners, which include Vienna University, IWW Water Centre, Istanbul Technical University to name a few. WABAG currently holds about 90 patents to its name, across the fields of water treatment, wastewater treatment, water reclamation and sludge treatment.

Not only this, but if we find a technology suitable for our process design available in the market, we do license such good and innovative technologies, such as NEREDA from RHDHV, which we have implemented in several of our plants globally. At WABAG, our core strength lies in our technology integration and process optimization to provide tailor-made solutions for our clientele, irrespective of the technology being developed in-house or licensed.

In the present scenario, especially post-COVID, there is an enhanced focus on digitization and automation in water sector. We have been allocating a significant portion of our revenue on R&D, and going forward, we will be prioritizing our emphasis on R&D, driven by our focus on incorporating digitization in our business, infusing innovation, knowledge, data and expertise. This will ensure virtual monitoring of our facilities and help us to work remotely. Automation, digitization and AI will help us operate with optimized manpower, helping us enhance the plant performance. Reiterating our focus on R&D, WABAG has emerged as a global leader in the removal of micropollutants, an area which requires state-of-the-art advanced technologies. In Switzerland, which is the first country to pass a legislation mandating removal of micropollutants, WABAG has implemented 7 plants with a cumulative capacity of 150,000 m3/d, with a further 12 plants under execution.

Our process knowledge and technical know-how has helped us design and execute one of the largest refineries ETP for Petronas in Malaysia, where 7 streams of complex effluents emanating from the refinery complex are treated in an Integrated ETP as per the statutory discharge norms.

In 2020, due to the pandemic, the pace of tendering slowed down considerably. However, Q2 FY22 onwards, we expect the pace of tendering to gain traction...
Q

Help us understand what sets VA Tech Wabag apart from other players within the sector? What is the core competency that gives Wabag an edge over others?

A

VA Tech WABAG is a leading “Pure-Play Water Technology” player. As mentioned earlier, our core strength lies in technology integration and process optimization, and we choose to focus on our core strength to provide tailor-made, sustainable solutions for the client.

We have demonstrated our technical expertise and execution excellence across sectors, be it water treatment, wastewater treatment, industrial effluent treatment, recycle and desalination. In fact, we have delivered several state-of-the-art and First-of-its-kind projects globally, which includes the World’s first Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) plant in Windhoek, Namibia in 2002.

Some of our marquee references include the first and largest PTA Effluent Treatment Plant for RIL (based on MBR technology), Nemmeli SWRO - the largest municipal desalination plant in India, BagBag WWTP, Philippines (based on space saving CYCLOPUR-SBR Technology), Kodungaiyur Power Neutral STP (first in India to complete 110,000 hrs on single gas engine) to name a few.

Hence, we believe that our focus on our core competency and our skilled workforce helps us focus on our areas of expertise thus, set us apart from our peers in the competition.

Q

Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

A

We have an extremely healthy order book and as a result, we have several key projects coming up for us. We have a Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) plant coming up for NMDC, a 30 MLD Captive Industrial Desalination plant for MRPL, WTP in Thailand for Thai Oil and a Seawater Desalination Plant in Tunisia among others.

In the last year, we were awarded the Jeddah 2 ISTP, the first and the largest NEREDA based STP in KSA, Kaseeb WTP in Tunisia, MED based Thermal Desalination plants in Libya and a Lake Water Treatment Plant in Switzerland. Also, we secured financial closure for our Hybrid Annuity Model (HAM) based PPP projects in Patna and Kolkata under the Namami Gange Mission.

Going forward, WABAG will definitely play a key role in partnering with the Government to augment the freshwater supply and to ensure optimal wastewater treatment and management, by executing high-technology projects.
Q

Due to this current state of pandemic, do you think there could be a huge change in the dynamics of the way you will be doing business? How would your order books change in the next 12 or 24 months?

A

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has already impacted the businesses considerably. However, the businesses today are adapting to the “New Normal” and are transition towards the new way of working. Remote and Virtual Working as well as operating with optimized manpower has become the norm today.

In 2020, due to the pandemic, the pace of tendering slowed down considerably. However, Q2 FY22 onwards, we expect the pace of tendering to gain traction and we are hopeful of further strengthening our order book this financial year.

Our investment made in remote working 6 years back in our Network Operations Control (NOC) at our Global HQ came to our rescue during the lockdown, as we were able to not only virtually monitor the plants, but were also able to provide remote commissioning support to ensure business continuity even during the strictest of lockdowns. We believe automation and digitization is the way forward, wherein Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and Data Analytics will play a major role in how the plants are monitored and even operated.

As far as our order book is concerned, we currently stand at INR 10,700 Cr (including framework orders) which gives us excellent revenue visibility of 2.5x. Going forward, we are looking at capturing the projects which suit our business interest, and as reiterated earlier, WABAG being a technology leader, would like to focus on high-technology projects which will help us improve our margins as well.

Q

Demand & supply is a great challenge in this business – How do you tackle this challenge?

A

WABAG has been a leading global player and a market leader in India, having built over 1400 plants over the last 25 years. Backed by our technical expertise, proven references and decades of experience, we are well equipped to offer a wide portfolio of solutions across all segments.

As an organization, we are ready to help the governments and the ULBs to take up more projects to address the issue of supply and demand. The government has been proactive in addressing the concerns regarding augmentation of freshwater supply and pollution abatement through initiatives such as Jal Jeevan Mission (aimed at ensuring 100% FHTC for Rural Households by 2024), Namami Gange Mission and the Swacch Bharat Mission – Urban.

Going forward, WABAG will definitely play a key role in partnering with the Government to augment the freshwater supply and to ensure optimal wastewater treatment and management, by executing high-technology projects.

Q

Tell us the secret of the phenomenal growth of VA Tech Wabag

A

WABAG has always focused on its core strength, being a pure-play water technology player. We have implemented projects across every segment, including recycle and reuse, desalination, resource recovery and even direct potable reuse of water. Leveraging our core strength of technological integration and process optimization, we have built state-of-the-art plants. Our marquee references include Windhoek Water Reclamation Plant, world’s first DPR plant, Reliance PTA ETP, treating the most challenging PTA effluent, Koyambedu TTRO plant, which treats secondary treated wastewater to potable water standards among several others.

Our investment into R&D is paying dividends today, with WABAG emerging as a global technology leader across resource recovery, recycle & reuse, desalination and even elimination of micropollutants. As mentioned earlier, our focus on core strengths, decades of experience and execution excellence enables us to provide sustainable solutions, for a better life.

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