Transition pathways for solving the urban wastewater, fecal sludge and septage problem in Indian cities based on resource orientation and business models

Project funding:

The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) through the project management organisation DLR. 

Project duration: 05/2020 - 04/2022, extension to 12/2022

Project partner:

ISOE - Institute for Social-Ecological Research
AONE Deutschland AG

CSIR-NIIST - National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology, Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala
CSIR-NEERI - National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, Maharashtra


In Indian urban centres, water management is facing explosive challenges. Only a small part of the wastewater in India is treated in wastewater treatment plants so far. In most cases, wastewater is pre-treated in on-site settling pits or discharged directly into drainage ditches. Urban settlements grow in informal and unplanned structures, causing a lack of sanitation. The change in general boundary conditions such as rapid urbanisation, climate change and resource scarcity worsen the already desolate state of public services. Often, western planning instruments do not hold up or cannot be adequately adapted.

Obviously, the planning of a sanitation system does not take place on the drawing board, but in a process of transition towards a resource-recovery and hygienic system. Aiming to a system that better meets the requirements in India. Establishing conceptually novel systems that are adaptable to both current needs and future issues (including micropollutants and trace substances), while at the same time meeting societal performance requirements, must be seen as an essential building block of the future of urban infrastructure.

Project objectives and approach

Based on the current initial situation, the aim of the proposed project is to identify possible transition paths in the Indian context. Realistic implementation strategies will be developed in the background of profound business models. The transition from a discharge-oriented wastewater paradigm to a new wastewater recycling will only take place if such a transition is demanded. This is obviously the case in India. The current lack of sewers and centralised treatment plants could be a starting point for changing the sewage system - from a dilution-based system to a separation-based (reuse) system of all wastewater streams (grey/black water, faecal sludge, pre-treated wastewater, etc.). Integrated treatment of sewage sludge and organic waste has not been sufficiently explored in India to date, although this option could be part of a solution to the waste and wastewater problem. Considering rising energy and fertiliser prices and a rapidly growing population, India has great potential for the integration of resource-oriented waste and wastewater systems.

However, implementation can only succeed through the exchange of expectations, the creation of social networks and a multidimensional learning process. In summary, the following goals are targeted in the course of the work on the German side (lead in brackets):


  • Adaptation or development of transition concepts in the Indian context from a discharge-based, deficit-oriented to a resource-oriented wastewater treatment (BUW, Bauhaus-Institute for Infrastructure Solutions -

  • Sustainability assessment of selected solutions involving stakeholders and multi-criteria decision support (ISOE)

  • Development and evaluation of functioning business models in the field of resource-oriented wastewater treatment (AONE)