Vikram Lal is a prominent and well-regarded businessman. He is one who has proved that by relentless focus on quality, India does have a role to play in the global manufacturing scene. Now in retirement, Lal, being a sensitive and caring citizen, is looking at how to improve the lot of his countrymen and countrywomen. He wrote to me and I quote below a part of his message:
One of our foundations runs a whole bunch of schools in the really backward areas of Alwar district in Rajasthan. A lot of effort and expense goes into running these schools for the thousands of first-time learners in this rather poverty-stricken area.
One of the biggest problems we face is the building and maintenance of toilets for the kids and their teachers. Normally these are made away from the school building and are free-standing. They are made in the normal (shoddy) way things are constructed in such areas. There is a chronic problem of water in many places, and other problems, which means that these are not cleaned and therefore get into disuse. Everyone then goes back to using the wide open spaces. That is fine for males, but girls and female teachers do suffer.
My thought was that perhaps your company could develop a product — a light concrete toilet — that could be built centrally or regionally, and then distributed to wherever it was needed. It should include a sump or some such thing, and it obviously would be designed for low and easy maintenance.
The rape-murders in Badaun, UP, last month was an outcome of the vulnerability of women who need to relieve themselves at night. This is very common, particularly in the north, and it is essential that every home have an effective, low-maintenance unit.
If this is of any interest to you, please do let me know. The point of writing to you is that your company has the expertise of making thin-walled concrete shells of intricate designs in a fully engineered manner.
I quote below my reply to him:
Dear Mr Lal:
Sorry for the long delay in getting back to you.
I have been doing a lot of research. The problem with toilets is not so much in the building, but in the ongoing operations.
We can build the toilets — we are in the process of finalising one of two technology solutions.
The problems will start after that:
1. We have to assume that the municipality/ panchayat will NOT supply regular water. This means that we must identify a tube-well/ bore-well source near the toilet.
2. We need to drill the tube-well and install a pump for the same.
3. We have …continued »