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Business Of Cleanliness

A national policy is in place; cities, state governments must operationalise it

Written by Naina Lal Kidwai , Madhu Krishna | Updated: September 20, 2017 8:23 am
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In May, Indore was declared India’s cleanest city. It beat 433 other cities in a survey conducted by the Centre, which ranked them on various sanitation and cleanliness parameters, including waste collection, open defecation free (ODF) status and feedback from citizens. The survey is part of the government’s initiative towards a cleaner India. Its focus on sanitation, open defecation and waste collection is significant, considering their impact on the environment, and on the health of city dwellers.

The Swachh Bharat Mission plans to achieve safe sanitation for all by 2019. The government has a clearly-defined progress path for achieving open defecation free cities and districts/villages. More critically, there is also a well-defined process, for the different phases of the mission, across the sanitation value chain — build, use, maintain and treat (BUMT). This effort needs to be sustained after 2019.

Nationally, we generate a staggering 1.7 million tonnes of fecal waste every day. However, there are no systems in place to safely dispose the bulk of this waste. Nearly 80 per cent of this sludge — a human excreta and water mixture that bears disease-carrying bacteria and pathogens — remains untreated and is dumped into drains, lakes or rivers, posing a serious threat to safe and healthy living.

The fecal sludge management system (FSM) is a solution to this problem. Successfully adopted by several countries in south-east Asia, FSM involves collecting, transporting and treating fecal sludge and septage from pit latrines, septic tanks or other onsite sanitation systems. This waste is then treated at septage treatment plants.

FSM is an effective alternative to traditional sewerage networks — both in terms of construction costs and time-taken. Using non-sewered sanitation systems helps to treat the bulk of waste from onsite sanitation facilities such as pit latrines and septic tanks. In fact, more than 70 per cent households with safe sanitation facilities are based on such onsite systems, and in a majority of cities there are no sewered networks or sewage treatment plants. Currently, the waste is collected by private operators, who empty the sludge using vacu-trucks.

The collected waste is dumped indiscriminately in the nearest open space. This poses grievous dangers of infection since the untreated sludge comes back into human contact through either the soil, or through untreated water contaminated with the bacteria and pathogen load of the dumped sludge. The good news is that these truck operators can be monitored through a simple GPS tracking process in order to ensure that they dump the waste at treatment plants/pre-determined sites.

Analysis has shown that treatment plants need to be conveniently located, bearing in mind the need for vacu-trucks operators to make money. The FSM ecosystem requires its stakeholders to collaborate closely. While the government will provide technical assistance to states and cities to design and implement effective fecal sludge management and treatment systems, citizens need to play their part as well. For instance, they need to be aware about the importance of a regular schedule for desludging septic tanks. They must also be ready to pay part of the cost of running FS treatment plants in their cities through regular service charges, or through regular taxes.

Perhaps the most important role in the FSM chain is that of sanitation workers. From extraction and collection to transportation and disposal, they are key to an effective FSM system. With no proper disposal system or safety regulations in place, they face serious health hazards. Their status in the workforce hierarchy is low. However, there is huge potential in the FSM system businesses for sanitation workers. The sludge is nutrient-rich. The waste, after treatment, can be given to farmers for use as organic compost. It can even be treated and used for biogas, or to manufacture fuel pellets or ethanol. Once pathogens and bacteria are removed, the water can be used for irrigation, construction, by industry in cooling plants, by RWAs and housing societies for gardens and flushing and by government agencies for parks.

With appropriate training, sanitation workers can be empowered to own and run FSM businesses — much like the producer cooperatives of the agriculture sector. While FSM is advantageous at many levels, perhaps the most significant benefit that improved sanitation offers is public health. Cleaner water bodies mean reduced incidence of water-borne diseases and reduced mortality linked to diarrhoeal diseases — especially among children less than five years old. We lose nearly 1,000 children a day to poor sanitation.

Effective sanitation measures like FSM are critical in saving these lives. A national policy is in place; it is now incumbent on cities and state governments to operationalise it. FSM is not only an engineering or infrastructure solution, but a city system that requires the resolve of each stakeholder to make the city fecal sludge free, and meet the objective of clean cities, as envisioned in the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Kidwai is chair, FICCI Water Mission and Krishna is country lead, Water Sanitation & Hygiene, India Country Office, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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  1. Seriously Motivated
    Sep 20, 2017 at 10:55 pm
    I am wondering from where the author has information on how much waste we Indians generate in a day!! How the calculation works, I am interested :D
    1. Kuldeep Saxena
      Sep 20, 2017 at 8:44 am
      A fine write-up drawing attention of the Government as well the policy makers to work on FSM as well arrange for the disposal of huge heaps of garbage collected and waiting for disposal timely. The need of the hour is to work on at a faster pace as there are serious threats arising out of the problem. For the purpose need to expedite on waste treatment plants as well disposal of FSM. It is time to work on various projects related to expedite and work out for that there is a need to cooperate and expedite by various state Governments also. If we are clear about the success of mission cleanliness we need to monitor the steps taken by the various state Governments and need for time bound monitoring. Hope every citizen understand the need for cleanliness and must come up to cooperate. If work up on Disposal of FSM we can avoid some of the child born deceases and other problems additing to the pollution levels.
      1. Jagdish Chander
        Sep 20, 2017 at 8:19 am
        Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a platform for politicians to get their photos published in media. Have you not read that the minister was provided garbage at India Gate by collecting from other locations for publicity. In this abhiyan garbage lifted from one place is put at another place.locations of garbage is getting shifted and not cleaned. Generation of garbage cannot be stopped. Only the management of garbage is not being done properly. Govt spends huge amounts on publicity stunts but do not spend on management of garbage. Muni l workers who are responsible for managing garbage are not paid ries for months, they do not have suitable equipment to effectively handle garbage. Often workers die while cleaning severs in absence of safety equipment. They do not have money to fill fuel in dumpers. once I had to pay R 1000/ to MCG contractor to fill fuel in dumper as contractor was felling helpless to remove garbage from our locality. It is a big political drama to fool people
        1. M
          Sep 20, 2017 at 7:53 am
          Mission will end 2019 with zero results
          1. A
            Sep 20, 2017 at 7:22 am
            All missions are good if implemented in true spirits. Bureaucrats of this country have to work hard. An atmosphere has to be created where cleanliness becomes priority and not a ritual. I am afraid after 2.5 years of Swachata Campaign, it is becoming like a ritual and not the necessity. Like in Temple one does an aarti in the morning and evening without bother to do connect with God. Cleaning Campaign is mainly run like Hindi Pakhwara with really a little impact on people implementing it. I hope someone is watching at the top and will take corrective measures.
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