Operations without Certification


Today in India, you cannot operate a boiler without a certified operator, but you can operate a wastewater treatment plant without such a certification requirement. Our
regulators, the Pollution Control Boards (PCBs), do not think that it is critical to insist that operators running the wastewater treatment plants have the necessary training.

Programs for training and certification for operation of wastewater treatment plants have matured over the decades in countries such as Germany (i.e. the German Association for Water, Wastewater and Waste or DWA) and United States of America (i.e. the Water Environment Federation). In these countries, certification of operators of wastewater treatment plants is a full-fledged industry and a career for young professionals.

I do not know how many wastewater treatment plants are ‘registered’ or are under the scanner of PCBs in India. I don’t recall any recent work done on such an inventorization on a national scale. But as a guesstimate, the number could well be close to a 100,000. And if we assume an average of 4 operators at each treatment plant, then we are talking about training and employment of 400,000 to 500,000 young professionals!!

Employment however is not the objective here. The idea is to improve compliance and  professional management of the ‘treatment plant’ to make it worth its investment. Performance evaluations of Sewage Treatment Plans (STPs) and Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) in India have clearly concluded that sloppy operation of treatment works and absence of professional training are the principal reasons for noncompliance and not as much the faults with technology or design. Following are some of the findings of such evaluations:

  • Out of the 152 STPs, 30 STPs non-operational and performance of 28 STPs not
    (CPCB, 2013)
  • In 2005, the Central Pollution Control Board studied the performance of 78 CETPs operating throughout the country. Only 20 (i.e. 25.6%) complied with the prescribed
    limits for general parameters pH, BOD, COD and TSS but 15 of these were not able to comply with the prescribed limit for TDS.

Who should take the lead in designing and conducting training programs for treatment plant operators? How do we make certification a requirement? These are important questions to answer.

I have been lobbying for the above steps for past 2 decades and have attempted models  through PCBs, roping Industrial Training Institutions (ITIs) in India. One of the major constraints that were found was absence of trainers and involvement of industry associations.

To address these concerns, I recently launched a Training of Trainers programme with the support of DWA and GIZ, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and CETP Company of the Thane Belapur Industries Association (TBIA). We just completed a 2-day training program
for Trainers, who were Senior Chemists and Supervisors of the ETPs/CETPs in the TBIA. Another sixmodule training programme will be conducted for the operators, on the same lines in January 2015. The content of this training programme was developed based on a Training Needs Assessment workshop that was conducted with industries, equipment suppliers, regulators and academia. The idea is to offer these modules twice a week in the evenings over six weeks with practical sessions at ETPs/CETPs. A neighborhood concept will be used for networking, keeping CETPs as the nuclei. See below


Training and certification of the treatment of operators can help bridge the gap between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’. Today, the design guidelines in India are not based on the actual performance of the wastewater treatment plants. Again, the field data is generally limited to the final discharge point i.e. end of the pipe – and not collated and analyzed to assess the performance of individual treatment units e.g. a clarifier. For instance, we do not have design graphs that are built on actual field performance data between say overflow rate or weir loading rate to the removal of Suspended Solids and BOD. Hopefully, once a system of
operator certification is introduced, we could build such a ‘culture’ and identify treatment plants wherein such data could be pooled. These plants, called ‘research plants’ could be interfaced with academia where students and faculty could work to develop design and performance equations – something really required for improving our understanding of the process and practice. Importantly, such data over national scale will lead to building benchmarks – e.g. on energy consumption– and provide guidance for optimization of costs and improving the performance.

So the advantage in introducing training and certification of operators could be multi-fold:

  • Better compliance
  • New job opportunities
  • Savings in costs
  • Help in Knowledge Creation
  • Build New partnerships

So let us work together to achieve these objectives. I would urge you to take this as a mission at the national level.


  1. Wonderful Prasad. Training and knowledge building is the need of the hour not only for operators but also for Designers and engineers of treatment plants. In Karnataka for the most part ( and I am sure it is the same elsewhere in India) Sewage Treatment Plants are designed by Plumbing consultants who have little knowledge in this field. Else, they lift some previous design, copy and paste. Therefore, for a Treatment plant to perform the three imperatives are :

    – Good Design
    – Good Engineering
    – Then, and only then Good O&M

    And for O&M, the primary qualification is Discipline. Since O&M at the lowest level is seen as a dead end job, disciplining and motivating the operators is the key to avoid high attrition rates, which negate all the training and effort we put in. I speak from experience of dealing with operators for over 25 years in O&M. We now operate close to 100 plants.

    1. Thanks Ananth for sharing your thoughts

      Is there a way to work with you to collate and process the data you may have on the 100 odd treatment plants? I learnt from Thermax that they are operating some 150 plants across the country. Mr Vashi’s company in Surat I believe is operating 350 STPs with some STPs running on SCADA.

      May be we all pool together and work like a consortium to take on this challenge


  2. Dear Dr. Modak

    Appreciate efforts in raising the issue. I believe problem is not that much simple as We think. Here We are talking about changing entire mind set of an industry rather than just few professionals who are responsible for design or running the plants. Certification might help but the most important aspect would be implementation of correct practices related to design and operation and follow it.

    To my knowledge and experience, We are much shallow in our wastewater treatment practices. Rightly said that We have database problems as We dont have correct databases on sewage characteristics generated in our cities and thus designs are just based on assumptions ? Once I asked someone very experienced person what could be actual concentration of NH4.N, TKN in our wastewaters ? Whether any survey done for it or whether any information available or are We just following certain adopted information from other part of the world ? Because partitioning of NH4.N , TKN would be highly community specific depending upon their dietary habits, sewer elapsed times, local climates. Even asking some one for correct wastewater temperature range is a crime !!!!! There are many problems I have observed with our current design practices and right data base is one of them. We seldom practice temperature based designs for biological wastewater treatment and I believe design for a plant in Northern India which observe lower colder temperatures would be different from the southern counterparts which rarely observe such colder climates. I am trying to give specific examples to highlight the point that still designs are subject to civil engineering rather than wastewater treatment process engineering and so called most of the process engineers are from civil background who like to play on their civil engineering strength rather than Wastewater process engineering. There are many design related misconception being practiced in Indian subcontinent and it is going on and on.

    Operation and maintenance of the plant has similar problems where our focus is more on electro-mechanical equipment management rather than biological process management. seldom a chance is given to a operator to learn basics of biological processes which will be supreme to run a biological process based plant. Under such conditions people move towards quick fixes which exacerbate the problems rather than solving the problems to its root cause.

  3. To All, The best way to come out of these problems in long term….. is to have a Research & Collection of Actual /Correct Database/Parameters from all existing STP’s / ETP’s & then formulate them zone wise or Direction wise; Call for foreign experts/ companies/partners to study them & come out with a better technology for India.

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