Rapid growth in population, urbanisation and water-intensive patterns of development coupled with climate change have had a significant impact on availability, quality as well as access to water around the world. Water management is a critical challenge especially in countries like India where agriculture is the source of livelihood for a major proportion of the population. Most are small farmers who depend on the yearly monsoon to grow crops. It is thus, imperative that the collective and immediate action is taken to address the issue and ensure a sustainable supply of water for both human consumption and agriculture.
ITC's operations, spread across the country, are dependent on continuous availability of water for seamless operation of its manufacturing units. Besides direct water consumption, ITC's operations are also dependent on multiple agri-value chains.
Recognising the critical role water plays in every aspect of sustaining life agriculture ITC has adopted an integrated water management approach to ensure water security for its stakeholders. The programme mainly focusses on improving water security for two of ITC's key stakeholder groups, (i) farming communities associated with agricultural value chains and, (ii) communities living in the neighborhood of its production units. To ensure positive water balance throughout the year, programme focuses on both, supply side augmentation through rainwater storage and groundwater recharge and demand management through promoting water use efficiency in agriculture.
ITC's Water Stewardship initiative follows a three-pronged approach for creating positive water balance so that the needs of all dependants are met sustainably. This includes:
Efforts for augmenting water supply at the sub-catchment level are implemented through interventions focused on harvesting rainwater, based on recommendations of hydro-geological studies. ITC's Watershed Development initiative promotes the development and management of local water resources by facilitating village-based participation in planning and implementing measures for soil and moisture conservation like minimising soil erosion etc as well as building, reviving and maintaining water-harvesting structures to store water. With water available for irrigation and improved soil fertility, farming is less exposed to weather risks and farmers can grow more than one crop in the year of better quantity and quality, significantly raising their incomes. Equipped with knowledge and training, working together as groups, farmers can take informed decisions towards making agriculture more secure for the future. The programme is implemented through public-private-people partnerships at the local level through an institution framework of local community user groups.
ITC's demand management interventions promote crop and area-specific agronomic and micro-irrigation techniques, which reduce water consumption and support 'more crop per drop' water use practices while simultaneously improving productivity and cutting cultivation costs.
Post demonstration of practices, farmers are helped to adopt the practices at scale, which is enabled through continuous handholding and by helping farmers leverage Government schemes for equipment and micro irrigation subsidies.
Innovative and water efficient demand management practices like micro-irrigation, wider spacing, trash mulching, etc. are promoted across crops like paddy, sugarcane, wheat, soyabean, fruits and vegetables. In addition, the programme also identifies and leverages innovative practices, adapts them for local conditions in pilots, demonstrates success and amplifies them.
To strengthen the initiative, ITC has partnered with various Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutes and other International Research Institutions such as International Water Management Institution (IWMI) etc.
The growing demands of water resources from different sectors, have led to negative water balance in many of India's river basins. This has resulted in water stress, depletion of groundwater tables, and has affected agriculture in the catchments, including the areas where ITC's production units are located. Realising the larger need, ITC is expanding to river basin level in phased manner. ITC has currently undertaken river basin regeneration plans in five basins across country. One of them is the Ghod river basin in Maharashtra in which in a span of 5 years has turned water positive through ITC efforts in both demand and supply side.
ITC's goal is to make its operations as water efficient as possible. All units implement action plans to work towards reducing net water consumption, maximising rainwater harvesting and achieving zero effluent discharge through technology upgradation, advanced processes, stringent audits and international benchmarking.
ITC has entered into 47 Public-Private Partnerships for Water Stewardship. Under the partnership with the Karnataka Watershed Development Department, capacities are being built using ITC's Water Stewardship approach to drought-proof watersheds. Government officials responsible for all watersheds are trained to incorporate ITC's drought-proofing framework and positive water balance-based planning.
ITC conducts efficacy studies to assess the impact of its initiatives and ensure that maximum benefits accrue in the long-term. According to studies, demand management interventions promoted by ITC have led to potential water savings of almost 850 million kl during FY22-23 with water savings of 20-45% across 15 crops.
Till date, the Watershed Development programme has been implemented in 50 districts of 16 states, resulting in the cumulative coverage area to over 15.34 lakh acres. It has enabled the creation of over 30,630 water harvesting structures and the net water storage to over 51.85 million kl.
ITC's efforts in water stewardship have been widely recognised. ITC was awarded the First Prize in the 'Best Industry for CSR Activities' category by the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India, at the 3rd National Water Awards 2020.
ITC was also awarded the first Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Platinum certification in India for its Paperboards unit at Kovai. Its Foods unit at Malur became Asia's first foods' processing facility to be awarded the same certification. ITC is working towards certifying all units in high water stress areas.
Additionally, ITC Mughal and ITC Sonar have become the first two hotels in the world to receive the LEED Zero Water certification by US Green Building Council.
ITC's efforts and initiatives have enabled the Company to be Water Positive for 21 consecutive years.
As part of its Sustainability 2.0 vision, ITC has committed bold targets for 2030 for water stewardship. They include:
A detailed report on ITC's Water Stewardship interventions and case studies can be found listed in the ITC Sustainability & Integrated Report 2023.