When half the country’s population defecates in the open

The India Sanitation Conference 2016 was held in New Delhi recently to review the progress and restate the targets for sanitation solutions and waste management in the country.

Hi there, this is my first post on TheEcoJunkie.com and just as a new day begins, this blog opens to the subject of nature’s call. So allow me take you to the grave subject of toilet sanitation that prevails in rural India as I write this.

I had the opportunity of attending the India Sanitation Conference (IndoSan 2016) in New Delhi last week on September 30, 2016. Came back with a load of facts and figures and numbers to crunch on, topped with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inaugural speech on the state of Sanitation in the country and the way forward. Modi is a mover and shaker alright and he is in earnest. But it remains to be seen if he can get rural India and go crap in a closed space and make the country Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2019.

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Heading out into the open… (Photo courtesy: Hindu Business Line)

India, the world’s third largest economy in terms of GDP (Purchasing Power Parity basis) is struggling to provide toilets to its population even after 70 years of independence. While it is an irony that while its mission to Mars was successful, its toilet programme hasn’t really taken off. But the enormity of the problem can be understood only when we consider its 1.25 billion population, of which only a little over 40% people have proper toilet facilities (2014). Therefore providing toilets to everyone by Oct 2, 2019 is no mean task and a tough target to achieve even with a budget of Rs. 620 billion (about US$ 9.3 billion). We’re talking 10 million toilets here!

toiletThen again, providing toilets is one thing and keeping them functional is another altogether. The operation and maintenance machinery also needs to be put in place. While the former may still be achievable, the larger issue is to bring about a change in the behavioural pattern of the populace. Mind you, the majority of the population in India’s rural areas is not conditioned to using covered toilets. Defecating in the open is the only thing they have known for generations. Changing this mind-set is a bigger challenge and the Government’s media campaigns alone are not sufficient for this. A social campaign, community based approach is much needed to achieve this. NGOs and social impact groups can work in tandem on the mission of making India ODF.

Then again ODF is but a small cog in the giant wheel of overall Environmental Performance Index (EPI) of any country. And India is no exception. In fact, it has the dubious distinction of being 141st on a list of 180 countries. But the silver lining around these dark clouds is that big plans are afoot and the earnestness is palpable.

The Indosan 2016 also exhibited technologies by many players in various fields of waste management. Many big and small players showcased their technologies. Some ‘technologies’ were as basic as plastic-bucket home composters and some as large as companies like IL&FS Environmental Infrastructure & Services (a waste management biggie in India) showcasing factory managed large units where up to 500 MT of waste is managed every day.

khamba-daily-dumpAmong others, there was Daily Dump, a waste management company based in Bengaluru, in Southern India, which has fine-tuned its Home and Community Composters over the last 10 years. The USP of their methodology is that it does not use any chemicals, power or mechanized operation. Their best known composting product is called the Khamba. It is a hand-made beautiful 3-tier terracotta composter specially designed for individual home use. Daily Dump also produces community based composters (christened ‘Aaga’) which can cater to the wet waste of up to 200 families. The USP of this community composter is again — no use of any chemicals, electricity or mechanized parts – minimising the carbon footprint and making it easy to use while precluding the deployment of highly skilled operators. With a little training this can be run and managed by the existing waste collection people. (By the way, be it known that 1 Kg of compost results in the reduction of 2 to 2.5 Kgs of CO2 equivalent!)

Notably — or shall I say strangely — there were companies in the exhibition claiming to have technology that can convert raw waste to compost within 24 hours to 72 hours. EcoMan Enviro Solutions in particular claims it can convert waste into compost in 24 hours!! Mighty tall claim, and personally, I am not biting. 24 hours?? Even 72 hours seems a stretch, which is the time-frame Alfatherm claims to do the job in. Compost, as we know takes anything from 20 to 90 days to become ready. After all it is the tiny microscopic organisms that have to break down all the kitchen waste or food scraps. But apparently these companies have found a way to accelerate the natural process?? So all they do is provide the humble microbes / micro-organisms and the right temperature and abracadabra – you have the compost? Surely there will be the involvement of power consumption, mechanical maintenance which kind of beats the ‘green’ purpose, doesn’t it. Additionally, there will be a requirement for skilled operators, covered and secured space which will add to the cost. Well, this does not get my vote. More viable alternatives will come along, I am sure.

Green Waste Reprocessor was another company at the show that converts garden waste into fuels sticks. These sticks can then be burned as domestic fuel. Innovative, but does not get my vote. That’s because it is uses power to produce the fuel sticks which when burnt would again pollute the air. They also require skilled manpower to operate and maintain these units. Our focus should be on technologies that are more environmentally friendly, easy to use, and should not require highly skilled manpower to operate and maintain.

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Paving tiles made from construction and demolition waste

Construction and demolition waste (CDW) is also a major pain area, with the added problem of being non-compostable / bio degradable. So the huge bulk of CDW just sits there. But now IL&FS has started utilizing this waste by converting it into usable – non-structural – building material. So people in and around New Delhi can source recycled concrete blocks and recycled pavers from IL&FS. The company also manages about 5000MT of MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) across urban India. In fact they now sell ready compost through various retailers under the brand EcoSmart Home Garden Organic Soil Enhancer. Interestingly they have tied up with Mother Dairy (a Delhi based milk and fruit & vegetable retailer) to sell their compost in over 350 outlets.

Another exhibitor, Enzyme Infra Pvt Ltd showcased their enzyme based technology. They also recycle C&D (construction & demolition) waste, mix their proprietary enzyme, some cement, gypsum etc. and bingo – you have bricks ready for use in 10 days flat. They have also tied up with NBCC (a government owned urban development major in India) for their housing redevelopment projects. Other products by Enzyme Infra are also noteworthy for C&D waste reduction. They have cold applied pot-hole repair solution – an excellent solution for the country’s pot-holed roads.

A company called Ecomaxgo has come out with what seems like a good concept, though I wonder about its practicality and effectiveness. Well the concept is simple. It has a solar bin. You just put in trash and it rewards you by crediting your phone with some recharge. Hmmm.

So that’s it with my first outing with TheEcoJunkie.com. I’m sure to write an update on this post somewhere along the line.

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Pankaj Nigam

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