For someone who is CEO of a family-owned business that makes 50 per cent of the world’s demand for vaccines, and also has the fifth richest man in the country for a dad, resting on his laurels would have been the easiest thing to do.

But the 30-something Adar Poonawala is driven by a dream to clean up the city which has been home to the family for decades. Not only has he committed Rs 100 crore of his personal funds to address garbage, the bane of most Indian cities, he is committing a more precious resource — his time — to it. Such is his passion that people working on the project confess that his pace can sometimes leave them out of breath!

Six months after launching the Adar Poonawala Clean Initiative, he is ready to take it to the next level. This will involve pilots to use CNG generated from waste to run municipal buses, convert scrapped buses into toilets for women and treat sewage water to make it fit for drinking.

In an interview to BusinessLine, Adar detailed his ideas for a cleaner, greener city in the year ahead. Excerpts:


How have you deployed the money that you planned to spend?


We already have 111 machines (my half-way mark) which is a combination of ‘Glutton’ suction machines imported from Belgium (for the first time in India), a fleet of customised Tata trucks mounted with even bigger vacuum machines sourced from Holland, and Johnston (from Britain) sweepers, amongst others, to manage the dry road waste (the municipal corporation is handling most of the wet waste).


As of now we are covering 30 per cent of the city streets. In the next six months we will cover at least 50 per cent and in 18 months should cover the entire city.


All the dry waste is sent to the PMC transfer station. Organic waste, which is half the 1,800 tonnes of solid waste generated in the city, is processed and then transported to a plant in Talegoan managed and owned by Nobel Exchange (I have also invested in this), which converts wet waste into CNG. At full capacity, it can process 300 tonnes of waste, making it the largest bio-gas plant in India. Right now we are operating at 100 tonnes and flaring the gas, but in a month, we expect to get approval to put it into cylinders.


We will sell the gas to the municipality at a discounted rate and Municipal Commissioner Kunal Kumar is currently working on a pilot to run municipal buses on this CNG.


I know Serum Institute does not have an ad - spend. But given that this campaign can succeed better with greater awareness, any plans?


Yes. We have tied-up with Dharma Productions, and Karan Johar has come out with a few ads that will be aired on news channels. We also want to use social media to raise both awareness and bring citizens’ participation. We are launching these in August. Without citizens’ participation, I realised, to do it alone is impossible. There isn’t enough money in the world or Krishnans (CEO of the clean initiative) to manage it.


You have expanded the initial scope of your work to a bigger 'clean’ initiative. So what else is there on the anvil?


We are taking scrapped buses and refurbishing them to provide 3-4 toilets and one or two shower cubicles for women at a nominal cost. It will also have a small ‘waiting’ lounge. The bus will remain at a location the whole day and get cleaned every night. We are starting as a 10-bus pilot in November in partnership with the PMC, which will provide the power, water and parking. I am going to pay for and service the buses.


The idea is that in three-four years, the entire waste management and clean initiatives should be a self-sustaining business.


You mentioned something about a project to convert sewage water into potable water


This is a long-term initiative we are working on — it should be launched in around four months time — to provide clean drinking water to the tune of one-two million litres each day to people on Pune’s outskirts. I am investing Rs 10 crore in two pilot plants with the capacity to process 4 million litres per day. We have tied up with Aquatech and will use membrane technology to treat sewage water from rivers and convert it into drinkable water. It is happening all over Europe and just not happening here. Water is going to be a scarce resource every year, and I want to use technology as a pillar to come up with solutions for these problems.


I will also use half this water for my industry, instead of using borewell or municipal water and give the rest to anyone who wants it on a first-come-first-serve basis.


What is the reception the initiative has received? And what is your reward?


It has largely been received very well. Of course, suggestions and comments keep pouring in as the initiative progresses. We have had some local issues with some corporators; while some have been very grateful. Others want to understand more before permitting this kind of activity in their areas, which is a bit shocking.


The initiative has been applauded, but if I see a behavioural change with participation from people and more engagement from corporations and others in my position, that would be my reward.

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