[Photo Credit: The Logical Indian]

As part of a West Bengal government initiative, Kolkata has installed a German-made water ATM that will dispense one liter of pure drinking water at a mere cost of two rupees per bottle. When compared to 20 rupees per bottle, as is often sold by street stalls and grocery stores, the ATM price is far more affordable and, therefore, more widely accessible. The rural focus given to the “Pran Dhara” packaged drinking water project is unique and necessary, yet thus far few other states have adopted the water ATMs. Nonetheless, the first machine inaugurated at the Ekdalia Evergreen Club in South Kolkata comes at an essential time for West Bengal, where the blistering summer heat has hit and will prevail until late fall.

The coin-operated vending machine is manufactured to include water quality analysis of raw water, a suitable purification and filtration system, UV rays for microbial disinfection, and a water chilling facility. The ATMs require the digging of an underground reservoir that can hold approximately 3,000 liters and an overhead reservoir that can hold approximately 1,000 liters. The machine also has an iron elimination system and an activated carbon system to remove any iron, odor, or unpleasant taste from the water. Operational for at least 12 hours per day, the ATM is capable of dispensing up to 150 liters of chilled drinking water per hour. One liter takes 20 seconds to dispense.

According to Water.org’s research in India, out of a population of 1.2 billion, roughly 77 million people lack access to safe water. The country’s ever-growing population further strains its natural resources, as most water sources are consequently contaminated by sewage and agricultural runoff. Even though India has made recent progress in its supply of safe water, a great disparity persists. The World Bank estimates that 21 percent of communicable diseases in India result from unsafe water. 769 million people lack access to adequate sanitation—for example, only 14 percent of the rural population has access to a latrine—causing 1,600 deaths each day due to diarrhea alone. In order to truly mitigate India’s water crisis, the delivery of safe water must go hand in hand with hygiene and sanitation improvements.

West Bengal’s groundwater, in particular, has concentrations of arsenic and fluoride that are much higher than internationally permissible standards. The provision of potable water by the ATM, then, comes at a relief to citizens who, in arid districts like Bankura, rely on wells, ponds, and lakes for drinking water. 59 percent of India’s population subsists on less than $2 per day (about 134 rupees per day), so at just two rupees per liter, the water ATMs are expected to be received well. As promised by the Panchayat and Minister of the Department of Public Health Engineering, Subrata Mukherjee, as many as 200 water ATMs will be set up across the city, with many more spreading across the state soon.