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Robotic manhole cleaners make life easier for manual scavengers, bring back dignity of labourers

The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) recently started using `Bandicoot’ designed by the Kerala-based GenRobotics Innovation Pvt Ltd for cleaning manholes.

The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) recently started using `Bandicoot’ designed by the Kerala-based GenRobotics Innovation Pvt Ltd for cleaning manholes.

After 10 years of handling sewage, 35-year-old Sachin Suryawanshi has finally got relief and dignity when labourers involved in cleaning manholes in the city started using robots for the work called ‘Bandicoot’.

The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) recently started using `Bandicoot’ designed by the Kerala-based GenRobotics Innovation Pvt Ltd for cleaning manholes.

Suryawanshi, a labourer with a contractor providing manhole cleaning services to the PMC, said, “The ‘Bandicoot’ machine has come as a boon for us labourers. It has brought an end to the manual handling of sewage waste for cleaning manholes. I have been very happy since the day I was trained to use the robotic machine to clean manholes.”

He recalls the tough situations he faced in the past while doing the work for a living. “I have been working as a labourer for cleaning manholes for the last 10 years. The PMC was using other machines to end manual scavenging to clean manholes but that too involved some contact with sewage. This new machine ensures minimum contact with sewage waste while cleaning manholes,” Suryawanshi said.

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Suryawanshi, who is still being trained on how to use the machine, said it will keep him and the others engaged in the job away from serious illnesses.

‘Bandicoot’ has already given Suryawanshi and the others a dignified life. “There is a change in public perception towards us. Earlier, people used to stay away from us when we used to clean sewage but now that has changed. I am no longer a labourer and have become an operator of a robotic machine. People come close to me and enquire about the machine and watch me getting the manhole cleaned using a robot,” he said.

The Pune Smart city has provided three ‘Bandicoot’ machines to the PMC. Sanjay Kolte, CEO of Pune Smart City, said, “Pune smart city has been promoting the use of technology to improve civic services. Thus, three robotic machines, each of Rs 49 lakh, were bought by the Pune smart city and handed over to the PMC for operation since the smart city does not have the manpower for the machine’s operation. We are hopeful that this will transform the lives of the labourers involved in cleaning manholes.”

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The machines are being used on a pilot basis and based on the workability of the machines, PMC may purchase more such machines to clean the manholes, Kotle said.

The robotic machine works with pneumatic, electrical actuators along with a software-supporting architecture and is capable of completely eradicating manual scavenging and safeguarding the health of labourers popularly termed as safaimitras. It has a capacity of up to 1,000 litre a day.

The robotic machine has four waterproof night vision cameras and a monitor where the actual situation inside a manhole can be seen. The operator uses the electronic machine to remove any blockage in a manhole and clears the path of the sewage line.

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“The best feature of the machine is that it is very user friendly and portable and can be used anywhere, including small lanes, to clean manholes, which was not possible by any machine earlier and labourers had to resort to manual scavenging. It requires just an operator and a helper along with a driver for the vehicle to carry the portable machine to the location,” said Shwetambari Nikte, a junior engineer who has been given a ‘Bandicoot’ machine to use whole getting manholes cleaned in Mangalwar Peth.

The robotic machine also sends alerts on poisonous gases inside manholes. Nikte added, “The PMC has decided that it would not allow any manual handling of sewage and the robotic machine is helping achieve the goal. The machine has gas sensors for the safety of the operators and helpers involved in cleaning manholes.” The PMC has also made use of all safety equipment mandatory for those involved in cleaning manholes.

Santosh Tandale, superintending engineer in-charge of PMC’s drainage department, said the PMC was impressed with the demo of the robotic machine and has pressed it into service on a pilot basis. “There are around 1.25 lakh manholes across the city with most of them being on the streets, followed by nallahs and a river on the sewage line network of over two thousand kilometre across the city. It is necessary to get them cleaned regularly to ensure proper disposal of sewage waste. This machine is bringing in a lot of change in the maintenance of the sewage lines,” he said.

“The machine will be primarily used in Aundh, Baner and Balewadi areas as it comes under the area-based development of Pune smart city. The labourers of the private contractors are being trained by Genrobotics for using the machine,” Tandale said adding, the initial cost of the robotic machine is high but its operational cost is very less compared to other machines being used for the purpose.

It is the latest technology equipped with all safety measures and efficient in manhole cleaning without human intervention and will have less operating and maintenance cost as compared to the traditional grab or recycler machines which can only be used on major roads, he said.

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First published on: 25-06-2022 at 02:31:17 pm
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