After spending two decades in the foreign services and food processing sector, Feroz Malik was set to take the entrepreneurial plunge. His wife suggested working for the social sector and thus began the search for a suitable venture. Being a Delhi resident, Malik was more than familiar with the dearth of clean drinking water. Water trolleys were a common sight on the streets of the capital, but the quality of water always questionable, says Malik. That combined with his wife’s suggestion prompted him to devise a way to supply clean drinking water at an affordable price.
And that’s how Bharat Jal was launched in February 2017 with an initial investment of Rs.25 lakh. Taking inspiration from the concept of vending machines, Malik set up ‘water vending ATMs’ as he calls it. The start-up that presently has one water processing plant in Delhi, released its first three-wheeler water vending machine two weeks ago. “We will have 11 more of these in the next 15 days. We plan to take this pan India by 2019 because it is a necessity across the country that has not been fulfilled yet,” he says.
The start-up is currently procuring water from the Delhi Jal board. The water is processed at the plant where the total dissolved solids (TDS) level is brought down to the permissible level of 100 and purified. Later, the RO water is filled in the 500-litre tank hoisted on a three-wheeler. Through an automated process, water would then move from the tank to the vending machine which has two vending points. A customer can either purchase a glass of 300 ml of pure drinking water for Rs.2 or fill a litre in their own bottles for just Rs.5.
Malik who seeks to address the issue of access to affordable clean drinking water says, “A bottle of Bisleri for example, costs around Rs.20. But we are not deploying what Bisleri is doing. It invests a lot in one plant, it hires people to manage these units. On the other hand, Bharat Jal will follow a model where we will own and manage the plants and give the vending machines on franchise model”. He further adds that the water being supplied by his venture, if tested, would prove to be as good as, if not better, than any other mineral water brand in the market today.
The company is currently awaiting its Delhi Municipal Corporation licence to install 10-12 more such ATMs. The start-up has already identified locations based on crowd gathering and requested the municipal body to approve the same. Once the requisite permissions are secured, Bharat Jal plans to recruit drivers who will also be operators. It is working to ensure that the tank is equipped to cater to people at all times, as it works to arrange for empty tanks to be re-filled with only a 10-minute downtime.
In addition to designing the vending machine in-house, it is currently developing an app that can control the water quality remotely, shut down the plant if needed, monitor the TDS level, pH value and so on. The app would be programmed to raise an alert if the quality of the water doesn’t meet the criteria.
Although having launched its first vending machine in the peak of winter in Delhi, Bharat Jal sells about 200-250 litres of water every day and is clocking a daily revenue of over Rs.1,500. Malik aims to cover Delhi-NCR in the first phase (till March 2019) by setting up about 10-12 processing plants and 100 three-wheelers; and expects a sale of 750 litres per day per vehicle in summer. If Malik succeeds in achieving his target, access to clean drinking water for one and all would indeed be a reality.