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Singapore has much to offer Water market

In the field of water management, Singapore has much to offer. It is a small country, around the size of Hyderabad. It has very few water resources and imports water from Malaysia under the 1961 Johor State Water Agreement. This has forced it to optimise its water management and it has done so admirably. Today, Singaporeans have universal and round the clock access to water which is of such high quality that it can be drunk straight from the tap.

Singapore has four main water sources which it calls the ‘Four National Taps’. These are: i) water imported from Malaysia; ii) local catchment; iii) desalination; iv) NEWater. The last is the most interesting and consists of advanced recycling technology that uses microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection to treat waste water. This treated water is of such high quality that it has passed 13,000 scientific tests and exceeds drinking water standards set by the World Health Organisation and the US Environment Protection Agency.

The output capacity of NEWater plants is 50 mgd and meets 30% of Singapore’s total water demand. To maximise its local catchment, a barrage called the Marina Barrage, was built on the main river in the city (the Marina Channel) to prevent water from flowing into the sea. This has resulted in a 10,000 ha reservoir. Singapore’s water management strategy is guided by three principles. They are: i) capture every drop of rain that falls on Singapore; ii) collect every drop of used water; iii) recycle every drop more than once. This clear and simple strategy has been meticulously followed.

The PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, undertook two important steps. The first was that it completely separated rain water and used water infrastructure, to ensure that rainwater does not get polluted. The second was that it created a Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) where all the used water is centrally stored and treated. These steps enabled integrated, holistic and forward-looking planning, leading to greater efficiency and addressing demand before a crisis hits. Indian water management is far too fragmented and such an integrated approach is the need of the hour.

Singapore also invests heavily in research and development. Unlike in India where a lot of scientific research is abstract and has little practical value, the research there is geared towards problem-solving and has actually brought down the costs of desalination plants and recycling technology. In this regard as well Indian scientists and engineers have a lot to learn.

Singapore also has an excellent skill development educational system known as the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). These are just like our Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). After students finish secondary education, they can opt for vocational education here. The ITEs provide 2-3 year career and technical education and provide modern skills such as engineering design and manufacturing, IT, multimedia, aerospace and marine technology, mechatronics, business and event management, nursing, hospitality services, accounting, human resources, etc. These skills are demanded by the market and the students benefit a lot. Also unlike in India, there is no irrational cultural stigma to working with one’s hands and taking such education is not looked down upon.

The ITEs were set up around the same time as Indian ITIs. However, unlike the ITIs, they changed with the times to remain relevant to Singapore’s knowledge intensive and innovation-driven economy. Our own ITIs have remained backward, largely dysfunctional and out of sync with modern needs. They are still in the framework of the 1960s when industry was expected to be a major driver of employment and industrial labour skills were required. They must be updated and brought in sync with modern times.

Half of India’s population is below 25. They must be given a relevant education and made job-ready. For this, the ITIs will play a key role and their transformation is the need of the hour. The curriculum should be updated so it is relevant to what the job market needs. The Ministry of Skill Development and the Ministry of Labour and Employment should take the state governments on board and prepare a relevant curriculum at the earliest.

Coming to the field of housing, Singapore has a scheme known as Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme. This is to upgrade public housing colonies. The housing board selects colonies for demolition and reconstruction. Once selected, residents are informed. The rest of the process demands special attention. With utmost respect, the residents are carefully explained each and every detail by government officials. They are given the option to purchase a new flat in public housing colonies coming up elsewhere.

The Singapore government acknowledges the importance of social ties and residents are also given the option to jointly select a flat with their neighbours, so they will continue to live by their side when they relocate. The existing flat is then valued by a private valuer on the basis of which compensation is made. The package is generally enough to purchase the new flat and if not, other financing options are available. In this manner relocation is generally a smooth affair.

The next leg of the journey was to Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. We visited the capital, Jakarta, and the largest island Bali. It is a country with deep influence of Hindu and Sanskritic culture. This is because of trade with India as well as rule by the Tamil Cholas, whose empire extended to Southeast Asia. The national airline is called Garuda and Muslims commonly have names like Rama and Lakshmi and there are ballads and dances based on the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The ancient culture of the subcontinent is alive in Indonesia and for them, religion and culture are two separate things.

Malaysia was a country that gained independence 10 years after India, in 1957, but is now several decades ahead of us in terms of development. They have fully embraced the market economy and many multinationals have set up base there. The iconic Petronas Towers, once the tallest in the world, are a symbol of Malaysia’s ambition and progress. We visited their new capital Putrajaya, which was marvellous. Like Indonesia, Malaysia is also a Muslim majority country with lots of cultural influence from India. In fact, the Malaysian Prime Minister is known in the local language as ‘Perdana Mantri’ and the third PM, Dr Mahathir Mohammad, was of Indian origin.

Our Southeast Asian neighbours have much in common with us. They have a similar culture, similar colonial legacy but have developed wonderfully. We have much to learn from them and should further strengthen our partnerships and people to people relations

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