When Amit Doshi was in class four, he and his brother would accompany their mother to carry buckets of water. They would queue up to fill water from a tap near their house in Kalol, a semi-urban area about 35km from Ahmedabad in Gujarat. The year was 1986, and the borewells in Kalol had dried up following a dramatic decline in the groundwater table. The municipality supplied water every three days.
“My mom carried the larger bucket, while my brother and I dragged the smaller ones. We kept the water for domestic use in a large drum. For us, it was a ritual we continued for almost a decade before relocating to Ahmedabad,” recollects Amit.
Amit, now 46, grew up seeing his family battling for water on a daily basis. The primary concern of his parents was to ensure that their 200-litre drum had adequate water for the family’s needs.
“My mother never complained about the strain on her body. She boiled the water before use because it was fluoridated. We weren't the only ones in Kalol to experience this. About 70 percent of the population suffered the same fate. Water shortage affects about 80 percent of the population in India,” says Amit, who completed his Diploma in Plastic Engineering from the Government Polytechnic in Ahmedabad. He started working for Sintex Industries Limited in 1997 and left in 2014 to start his business.
Growing up with water scarcity instilled in Amit a sense of purpose – to save every drop of water and ensure there is less struggle to access water. One way to do it was through rainwater harvesting by collecting and storing rainwater that runs off from rooftops, roads, grounds, etc.
This water can be stored or recharged into the ground to improve water availability through wells and borewells.
According to the Central Water Commission, India receives 4,000 billion cubic metres of rain annually, but only 8 percent is harvested. The figure is among the lowest in the world.
Rainwater harvesting can provide up to 70 percent of the water needs for a household. Amit decided to create a simple, inexpensive, and easy-to-use rainwater harvesting product that could empower families who spent hours collecting water for their daily needs.
After a year of research and development, he designed an instrument to help people collect rainwater, which could be used to recharge borewells or stored, and named it NeeRain Rainwater Filter.
This small filter unit with dimensions of 1x1x1.5 feet uses an engineering material called ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), and it was patented in 2018.
On receiving the necessary approvals, NeeRain Private Ltd began manufacturing the filters in collaboration with the MSME (Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises) Tool Room. While the initial investment was Rs25 lakh, Amit received Rs10.81 lakh as a grant as his product empowers people to access and save water and helps the environment.
It was introduced in June 2020 and costs Rs 2950. While re-drilling a dry borewell can cost around Rs 3 lakh, recharging the groundwater through rainwater harvesting using NeeRain is a much more cost-effective and long-term solution.
With 300mm of rainfall, a house in Mumbai with a 1500 square foot roof can conserve 4 lakh litres of water annually. With 150mm of rain, a house in a similar area in Kolkata can save around 2.5 to 3 lakh litres of water.
So far, NeeRain has been installed in 250 cities across India. It is exported to Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Mozambique and Guatemala. There is a rising demand from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.
How NeeRain works
A non-electric device with an ABS filter, NeeRain, can last up to 25 years. While rainwater is pure, it gets mixed with other impurities, called TDS (Total Dissolved Solid), once it falls on the roof or any other surface. To remove these impurities, the rainwater is passed through the pipe which filters out even hair-like thick garbage using a double-layer HDP (high-density polyethylene) cloth.
The CV (check valve) material filters out particles down to 400 microns while HDP filters are effective down to 200 microns. The borewell or tank then receives the crystal-clear water and gets recharged, making it easier to extract water.
The filter is immune from corrosion and pollution since it is made of nylon-based material. Rainwater collection does not require electricity because the filter operates on the principle of gravity.
The transparent lead makes it easier to see the live harvesting and allows for cleaning if any impurities are found. As the rainwater seeps into the ground, the water table rises, the pH level of the water improves and the borewell is recharged to provide water for longer durations.
The installation of NeeRain does not require any extra space or civil modification. The filter can be mounted on the outer wall of a house that has a roof of 1100 to 1300 square feet. Neerain allows vertical fixing and integration of rainwater pipe and it takes around two hours to complete the installation.
Seven countries save water with NeeRain
Around 5,125 NeeRain units have been successfully installed since its commercial launch in 2020.
“Using NeerRain, over 125 billion litres of rainwater has been saved till June 2023 in seven countries spread over three continents,” says Amit, who believes that rainwater harvesting is the only solution to avoid water scarcity.
To promote rainwater harvesting rapidly, Amit is planning to increase the reach of his product by increasing NeeRain’s dealer strength and spreading it to 700 locations around the country. With this, he expects the company's annual revenue to grow from Rs 2 crore to Rs 10 crore in the next three years.
“Over the next few years, I hope to reach lakhs of households to conserve billions of gallons of rainwater. Since rainwater harvesting technology is now easily accessible and convenient, we can address the issue of the global water shortage,” says Amit.
Reckless extraction of groundwater combined with climate change has adversely impacted water resources. Around 20 percent of the borewells in India encounter water shortages due to groundwater depletion annually.
Around 55 million new homes are constructed every year and a borewell is drilled before the construction begins. India has more than 33 million or 3.3 crore borewells and yet, new ones are dug every year.
A June 2018 report by NITI Aayog says that India is undergoing the worst water crisis in its history and nearly 600 million people are facing high to extreme water stress. It is not surprising, given that the country is not able to harvest its rainfall.
If India can harvest even half of its annual rainfall using mechanisms like NeeRain, many of its water-related problems will be resolved. “We must avoid wasting rainwater. Our country will be water-positive only if every family, organisation, and industry sends its rainwater to the borewell,” says Amit.
Excessive groundwater use has resulted in its depletion across India but the problem is more acute in Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. “People are aware of the 4000-year-old rainwater gathering techniques through scriptures, monuments and step-wells, etc. but still choose not to use it,” he says.
Apart from quantity, even the quality of water in India is deteriorating rapidly. In many regions of Eastern India, the groundwater level has decreased to the extent that water is now contaminated with arsenic. Groundwater in various parts of Maharashtra contains uranium while high fluoride levels are reported in water from parts of Gujarat.
Borewells in Ahmedabad are presently, on average, 600 feet deep. Ten years ago, the city used to get its water from 150-foot-deep borewells. It is 1200 feet deep in Bengaluru and 1900 feet deep in Chennai.
“People will start receiving crude oil in the next decade if depletion of groundwater continues at the current rate,” he says.
(Partho Burman is a Kolkata-based award-winning journalist. He writes inspiring human interest and motivational stories.)