There is a need for development of a formal framework in the form Corporate Water Stewardship Council

New Delhi: Discourse around Corporate Water Stewardship, though a fairly new concept in the Indian context, has been gathering some momentum in recent years. Corporates in India have come forward in recent years and have been spearheading water stewardship initiatives in their production units and also through their supply chains for ensuring improved water use efficiency and transparency in water auditing through voluntary disclosures on water usage and environmental impact assessment reports. Most of the well founded and accepted definitions on Corporate Water Stewardship stress on the importance of using water as a natural and shared resource in a way that is sustainable and is socially and economically beneficial to all. This can be achieved through responsible use of water and convergence of efforts by different stakeholders, in which corporates can play a very important role as a catalyst for change.

With the success of the 1st webinar on Corporate Water Stewardship organized on 8th January 2021, and the overall agreement among the speakers, panellists and participants that there needs to be a formal development of a Corporate Water Stewardship Council as an outcome of the webinar series, Oxfam India in collaboration with PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry took forward the webinar series on “”Multi-Stakeholder Consultation for Corporate Water Stewardship: Encouraging Water Stewardship” with a 2nd webinar on 2nd March 2021. Focussing on the objective of initiating a multi stakeholder-inclusive discourse on water stewardship and encouraging adoption of corporate water stewardship best practices by corporates, the 2nd webinar was designed with the aim of knowledge sharing on efficient and proven water stewardship efforts, policies and practices by water positive corporates and provide an overview on Corporate Water Stewardship (CWS) tools and industry best practices to facilitate adoption of CWS agenda among corporates.

The webinar which was co-moderated by Mr. Jafar Alam Ahmed, Consultant, Oxfam India and Dr Ranjeet Mehta, Deputy Secretary General, PHDCCI, played host to a very distinguished and expert list of panellists in the form of Mr Ashish Bhardwaj, India Coordinator, Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) New Delhi; Mr. Pankaj Satija, Chief Regulatory Affairs, Tata Steel Ltd.; Mr. K K Sharma, Whole time Director Head EHS at DCM Shriram Ltd; Mr. Narendra Jain, Vice President, Jubilant Life Sciences Ltd; Ms. Rashmi Naik ,Founder, CSR links; Mr Mitesh Pandya AVP-Sustainability & CSR, Vedanta Resources Limited; Mr. Mukunda Upadhyay, Programme Officer, Oxfam India and more than 100 participants from all over the country ranging from corporates, entrepreneurs, students, businessman, administrators and academicians.

In his welcome address, Mr. Mohit Jain, Chairperson, MSME Committee, PHDCCI emphasized that time has come for an informed decision making and promoting best practices for water management and its conservation both in industries and society as a whole. In this venture, civil societies, NGOs, Government including State Governments and other arms and institutions associated with water management conservation will have to play an equal role. With water management and its conservation, reduction of pollution will have to be linked with economics of sustainable water management. Water Stewardship Council will be an ideal mechanism in this direction. Deputy Secretary General, PHDCCI, Dr Ranjeet Mehta who conducted the Webinar suggested that the proposed Council should be evolved following a comprehensive detailing.

Mr. Varun Gupta, Director, Kent R.O Systems Limited and Chairperson Water & Solid Waste Management Committee, PHDCCI said there is a need for development of a formal framework in the form of a Corporate Water Stewardship Council, with a list of commitments from participating corporates and other stakeholders towards mainstreaming of Corporate Water Stewardship agenda in their existing and future work.

He also pointed out that concerns about water in private sector are rising and essential ingredients in operations of industry are viewed very seriously for qualitative and quantitative management and usages of water. Long term sustainable water strategies are being evolved in almost all industries for the critical water management and its consumption. New benchmarking are also scaling up in industries to manage their water operations

Mr. Ranjan Dhingra, Co-Chair, Water Committee, PHDCCI who is also associated with ROTARY in his presentation emphasized saying that several focused areas for sustainable water management and its consumption are being identified to serve humanity and transform it lifestyle so that security of water is well managed in the evolving precarious situation. According to him, everyone is thirsty for water and its management including consumption and is serious as to how this thirst can quench and in this direct both PHDCCI, ROTARY and other stakeholders are associated with an another for judicious water management. Check dams, rain water harvesting, transformation of water bodies are some of the areas in which serious attention is drawn of all stakeholders in close collaboration of Ministry of Jal Shakti. Mr. Dhingra also informed that crores are being planned to be invested in water management and consumption across the country by ROTARY as such.

Mr. Mukunda Upadhyay, Programme Officer, Oxfam India, in his observations revisited the largely concluded suggestions of the previous Webinar on the subject saying that dialogue for better and judicious water management and consumption should go on until it becomes conclusive. Water governance, its quality and its linkages with social licensing should be of prime significance. Knowledge sharing on water related conservation and debates should be on a win-win situation for each stakeholder so that good water management practices can be replicated wherever possible and required. The proposed Council can play a lead in water advocacy

Mr Ashish Bhardwaj, India Coordinator, Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) New Delhi, India said the mission of the AWS is to promote responsible internal (organizational) and external (watershed) actions undertaken to optimize water benefits for society, the environment and the economy. The International Water Stewardship Standard is intended to provide water stewards with an approach for evaluating existing processes and performances within their sites (or facilities) and watersheds, and ensuring that responsible water stewardship actions are taking place.

Mr. Bhardwaj also stressed on the membership of AWS as also emphasized advancing water stewardship including water stewardship network both in perspective of India and its global linkages.

Mr. K K Sharma, Whole time Director Head EHS at DCM Shriram Ltd in his detailed talk demanded incentives for water stewardship and called for practices that should be adopted for sustained business operations. According to him, the industries that DCM are in strictly follow the guidelines of the governments in UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Telangana in which their operations are on. The focus of the group is to reduce pollution, recycle and reuse water, adopting holistic approach for water conservation and availability. Effluent treatment is also done with utmost priority so that industrial produce becomes consumer friendly. The Policy of the group for water management is based on zero liquid discharge.

He also emphasized on the need for a holistic approach to address water consumption and usage patterns all across the supply chain and the importance of our ensuring accountability towards community water needs through various community intervention programs.

Mr. Pankaj Satija, Chief Regulatory Affairs, Tata Steel Ltd in his presentation informed that Steel plants are set up where the coastal areas because these need water in plenty for various manufacturing processes. Most of the steps that Steel industry take for its water management are as per policies and directions of Governments. The Steel industry take water issues with all seriousness as part of its Corporate Social Responsibilities and work very closely with communities around its manufacturing base. Since water requirements for such plants are very high and therefore, water demand in such industries jump very high, water management issues are addressed more than adequately. Several agencies are involved for water management in the sense that the environment is integrated with water practices because steel plants import coal also.

He also mentioned that ethics is an integral part of business operations these days. Water scarcity is a grave issue. Real-cost of water is not assessed, as there is no information on it.

Mr. Narendra Jain, VicePresident, Jubilant Life Sciences Ltd. who also spoke on the occasion demanded proper and fair regulation for water management from host of agencies which include Center Groud Water Authroity, National Green Tribunal and the like. Fair policies, according to him will amount to better and judicious water management by industry and society.

Mitesh Pandya, AVP- Sustainability & CSR, Vedanta Resources Limited, argued on the occasion that water should be conserved on all levels for which policy making is important and critical. Water management policies should be framed keeping in view that India is a developing economy in which its industries will become operational with fair treatment from all relevant quarters.

Ms. Rashmi Naik, Founder CSR Links who also spoke on the occasion saying that water management practices should begin from the headquarter and their trickle down effects should be positive on manufacturing. There are certain companies that are doing excellent work on water management and these need to be emulated by other organizations in different verticals.

Very diverse and dynamic discussions were held in the Open Floor Discussion session of the webinar on the need to develop a framework in the form of a Corporate Water Stewardship Council, roles and responsibilities to be played by different stakeholders and the development of a charter of sorts for the formalisation of the council to take forward discourse and sharing of knowledge and best practices on credible water stewardship agenda among corporates, with active and inclusive coordination with relevant stakeholders.

Mr. Shobit Chepe, TROSA Lead (Consultant), Oxfam India, while delivering his closing remarks for the webinar emphasized on the importance of using water as a natural and shared resource in a way that is sustainable and is socially and economically beneficial to all. This can be achieved through responsible use of water and convergence of efforts by different stakeholders, in which corporates can play a very important role as a catalyst for change. He also laid stress on the formation of the Corporate Water Stewardship Council and the importance of continuing dialogues and discourse around credible water stewardship, so that community at the last mile benefits from the initiatives and discourse, while also setting high standards for corporates as agents of change in amplifying the water stewardship agenda through their policies and practices.