EntrepreNeo: AmrutDhara – the eco-friendly alternative to bottled water

To get rid of our national obsession with bottled water, AmrutDhara, an award winning student startup, takes a stab at a safe, eco-friendly alternative.

Go to any public place, railway station, bus stand or pan shop – the one thing you will find most common is the ‘Bisleri bottle’! In a country that is increasingly concerned about the quality of water that comes from all sources, packaged drinking water seems to provide the only ‘expensive’ alternative.

India sells an estimated 1 million bottles of water everyday. Pic: Flickr user iHyd, Sanjay

Up to 40% of bottled water comes from the same source as tap water that is regarded as unpotable to most Indians, but it has spurred an industry that stands at Rs. 8,000 crores today and is growing at breakneck speed in India – a phenomenal 40-50% a year.

India sells an estimated 1 million bottles a day, with the costs of producing bottled water (Rs. 3 to Rs. 5 per litre according to estimates by Centre for Science and Environment) completely disproportionate to the costs at which they are sold (Rs. 15 to Rs. 20, with premier brands even costing up to Rs. 110 per bottle!).

Even with the most state-of-the-art treatment system with reverse osmosis and membranes, the cost of treatment of water to package  is estimated at Rs 0.25 per litre at the most. Plastic bottle is what costs the company—between Rs. 3-4 for a one-litre container. Transportation – from the bottling plant to our cities and homes – adds significantly to the costs as does all the sales and advertising pitch. But add up all costs, and it is still a dream business, especially in a country with a failing public water supply.

amrutDhara, a student enterprise that won runners-up at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) National Students Challenge, is tackling this challenge head-on, railway station by railway station. The social enterprise started by Minhaj Ameen, Akshay Roongta and Sandeep Jaiswal aims at proving a safe, inexpensive, and eco-friendly alternative to bottled water.

The Amrutdhara team in Chennai: (L-R) Akshay Roongta, Minhaj Ameen, and Sandeep Jaiswal

The idea started when Minhaj  and Akshay Roongta met in Auroville a few years ago. While travelling by train, they realised that at some point, everyone had to buy water, and even the quality of water was uncertain. From the number of brands available, it was also clear that it was easy to set up a bottled water brand and there is so little regulation. Ironically, smaller brands take advantage of both the trust and fear built by larger mineral water brands. “We initially  fought for banning bottled water in Pondicherry (at least), but we realised that so many people actually needed it and it couldn’t be banned altogether. We started researching about alternatives instead,” says Akshay Roongta.

That’s how the idea of a mobile outlet that could sell water in glasses or provide refill options emerged. “We’ve been perfecting the idea ever since. We were recently (August, 2013) chosen by Villgro as part of their Entrepreneur-In-Residence program. That’s when Sandeep (Jaiswal) came in, and since then, we’ve met lots of other people who’ve egged us on and asked us all the right questions, and that has given birth to newer ideas,” he says.

Akshay, Sandeep, and Minhaj at the lean experiment site

How it works

amrutDhara sells water at Rs. 3 per litre through kiosks at public places to filter, cool and supply water. “We sell water in glasses (washed and dried on site, immediately), refill bottles, we sell refillable bottles and also provide real time analysis of the quality of water being provided,” says Roongta. Right now, the 8-month old startup is looking at building partnerships with SHGs (self help groups) to man these kiosks and provide a decent livelihood opportunity for them, apart from making it environmentally and financially sound.

“We’ve been experimenting with providing glasses for drinking water, cleaning them after the customer is done with them, or providing clean, filtered water that they could fill directly into their bottles (quite a few of them were carrying their own bottles),” says Roongta, of the pilots they have conducted so far in railway stations and public spaces like parks. As next steps, the organisation is working on government support and the set up of SHGs.

Minhaj serving water at the lean experiment

“In conversations about waste management, people always see it as a ‘recycle’ game, but we believe we can be one step ahead if we don’t consume, or refuse plastic in the first place.”

EntrepreNeo is a new series on youth entrepreneurs and young leaders who are changing the course of social impact in India.

This article is also part of “Catch Every Drop“, a special March series around water – celebrating, respecting and saving the life-giving resource – ahead of World Water Day, March 22, 2014.


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  • Ratish Gokhale

    Good concept but I have serious doubts around hygiene and quality issues once this is rolled out on mass scale.. You wouldnt want to be blamed and sued for a serious outbreak of infections