Addressing The Great Sanitation Challenges In India Eram’s Innovative E-toilets Aids In Providing Solutions To The Public Health, Hygiene, And Sanitation Sector

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Siddeek Ahmed

India is an emerging superpower with a thriving and vibrant democracy and a fast developing economy. But there are so many aspects that continue to blight this country in ways that make us bow our head in shame before the world. Open defecation is one. India holds the ignominious distinction of a country with 595 million people, who defecate in the open. That is almost half the Indian population or 90 percent of the people in South Asia (excluding India). Of the 1.1 billion people in the world who defecate in the open, 59 percent live in India.

Lack of proper toilet facilities is an Indian problem with open defecation as its unavoidable consequence. And the immediate victims continue to be women and children who have to bear the brunt of this stigmatised problem. While children suffer from malnutrition, diarrhoea, worm infections, etc. which cripple their growth and impact learning abilities, open defecation affects women in more inhumane ways as their very dignity as a human comes under test.

Even today, 67 percent of rural Indian households still do not have access to proper sanitation facilities. I once read that there are women in our country who skip dinner, not because they do not have anything to eat, but because they have no proper toilet facilities to relieve themselves the next morning.

And if they dare do it in the open field the next morning, they will have do under the prying eyes of men. So they will wait till evening so that they can relieve themselves under the cover of darkness. Such is the oppressive system in which many women in our country live.

‘India holds the ignominious distinction of a country with 595 million people, who defecate in the open. That is almost half the Indian population or 90 percent of the people in South Asia (excluding India). Of the 1.1 billion people in the world who defecate in the open, 59 percent live in India’.

‘Corporates can make a real difference in the lives of people, provided they have a good implementing partner at the ground level’

The Great Swachh Bharat…

So how does one address a multi-dimensional problem that effects almost half the population in the country? Swachh Bharat, the ambitious programme aimed at addressing the vast challenges of sanitation, was launched by the government with the grand vision of making India open defecation-free by 2019, among many targets set under it. But providing toilets to such a vast populace is no small task. Addressing this enormous task is as much about transforming those innate cultural as well as social behavioural patterns as it is about creating the requisite infrastructure that would solve the issues of sanitation in a comprehensive manner.

sc2It is heartening that India has awakened to the call for Swachh Bharat and there are many encouraging initiatives. But at the same time, India should recognise the need for smart and intelligent solutions to address the ever-increasing clamour for better urban spaces, and facilities for women. With cities expanding, larger migrant workers from suburbs to cities, and women travellers on the rise and the security of women come under greater threats, we need to find smart solutions.

There is a limit to what the government can do. So it has sought the Corporates’ help in making Swachh Bharat a success. That indeed was a smart move, for, it helped the issue catapult from the country’s streets and open fields to the corporate boardroom. Companies have responded positively to the government’s call for funding in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) segment. Unlike past sanitation campaigns like the Nirmal Bharat Yojna and the Total Sanitation Campaign, Swachh Bharat’s approach in proactively seeking the help of the corporate sector, which is incumbent upon spending a certain percentage under Corporate Social Responsibility as per Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013.

Mumbai-based social sector consultancy Samhita and The India Sanitation Coalition jointly conducted a study on 100 companies with the largest CSR budgets. These companies were chosen based on their position as leaders of    India Inc whose decisions are likely to set trends for CSR initiatives of other companies. The survey showed that corporate India responded enthusiastically to the government’s call-to-action on WASH. 19 percent of companies reported at least one CSR intervention in WASH over the last three years with a total of 164 programs being implemented – indicating a high level of interest from Corporate India in addressing the sanitation crisis. Nearly a third (25 companies) reported an exclusive focus on sanitation.

Too Much Too Little

Corporates can make a real difference in the lives of people, provided they have a good implementing partner at the ground level. If we take the CSR spends of corporates in India and their utility value, we can find a great mismatch. Mindless usage of CSR funds just for the sake of placating the law books can be attributed to this scenario.

sc4CSR initiatives should be meaningful and should step in with a conscious effort to identify and promote innovations in public as well as school sanitation efforts. Often, such CSR initiatives end up in fulfilling the number of structures and seldom meet the needs of the target it was ultimately meant for. Most of these CSR initiatives lack a well thought out plan for Operations and Maintenance (O&M). Such lacklustre efforts may not lead to concrete results. More often, Corporates give in to the easy temptation of assigning the CSR duties to NGOs without checking their credentials. And the result: CSR funds become vulnerable to be gobbled up by unscrupulous and avaricious people with some half-hearted works being undertaken as show-offs. So it is very pertinent that Corporates identify the real stakeholders and grassroots organisations in the field of sanitation and ensure that their CSR funds are utilised in a very constructive and meaningful way. They have to think of working directly with the stakeholders so that the effects will be felt by the real beneficiaries at the grassroots level.

A Silent Revolution That Can Take The Ambitious Swachh Bharat To The Next Level

India has sent a mission to Mars and preens itself on the world stage, jostling with those shiny-happy western nations as an emerging superpower. But, paradoxically, the world’s largest democracy holds another dubious distinction that belies its muchballyhooed aspiring superstar seal. It holds the ignominious distinction of a country with 595 million people, who defecate in the open. That is almost half the Indian population or 90% of the people in South Asia and 59% of the 1.1 billion people in the world.

Addressing this stigmatised social challenge is no easy task. It throws up a litany of oft-repeated issues such as lack of governmental vision, bureaucratic lethargy, resource/manpower scarcity, etc.

Indeed, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is an ambitious programme aimed at addressing the vast challenges of sanitation. But, providing toilets to such a vast populace is such a task that throws up logistical, financial, social, and economical challenges of mammoth proportions.

Finally, a solution… rather a silent revolution!

sc3Thiruvananthapuram-based Eram Scientific Solutions, a R&D social enterprise in the water and sanitation sector, has come up with revolutionary electronic toilets which are rewriting the very notion of public sanitation. It is India’s first connected e-toilet infrastructure. Eram has so far installed 1,600 e-toilet units and 400 sewage treatments plants in 19 States.

Key Features:

  • Modular and portable
  • Self-flushing and self-cleaning
  • Eco-friendly
  • Hygienically maintained
  • Equipped with motion and temperature sensors
  • Equipped with GPRS for remote monitoring of water levels
  • App to find the nearest e-toilet
  • Also manufacturing she-toilets for women with extra napkin vending machine and incinerator to dispose used ones.

Why ideal for India? E-toilets do away with all the challenges posed by conventional toilets. Conventional public toilets are often in pitiable conditions due to lack of proper maintenance and cleaning. Since e-toilets are unmanned and are routinely auto-cleaned and self-flushed, there is no worry about hygiene.

Do people have to pay? It is not necessary that users always have to pay for using e-toilets. E-toilets can be programmed to make entry free. Chennai Corporation, for example, as part of its open defecation-free drive, has installed over 200 e-toilets. The access is free to all. The user just needs to press a switch to enter. Fixing fee for usage is the discretion of the authorities.

Are they user-friendly? E-toilets come equipped with an user-friendly interface. Except for inserting a coin (which can be made free access, like in Chennai, where a mere pressing of a button will make the door open), a common user has no electronic interface. The electronic components are put only to ensure accountability of operations and the e-toilet remains clean and hygienic for every user. There is also no chance of anyone getting stuck inside an e-toilet, because the exit is completely manual just like a conventional toilet.

Are they durable? E-toilets are made of stainless steel which can last at least 20 years. A study about the long-term financial impact of e-toilets vs conventional toilets by Chennai Corporation found that e-toilet is cheaper over a period of five years. There are no massive maintenance charges like caretaker salary, annual maintenance such as painting, tiling, etc.

Constant Innovation: There are four different e-toilet models now. And more research is going on to innovate the e-toilet concept. The Company has achieved Rs 24 crore turnover in FY16 and targets Rs. 40 crore in Fy17.

eToilets as a Solution

Creating awareness on the need to end open defecation is as important as setting up enough infrastructure in place. Infrastructure that is both sustainable and durable. Traditional toilets come with many issues such as lack of proper hygiene. CSR activities should consider alternative options like eToilets, which are unmanned and automated and can go a long way in solving the stigmatized issues of lack of proper toilets in the hinterlands of our country.

sc5Why eToilets? In these times of smart cities, the societies of the future have already switched on to intelligent systems, so why not eToilets? First of all, eToilets do away with all the challenges posed by conventional public toilets, which are often in pitiable conditions due to lack of proper maintenance and cleaning. Since eToilets are unmanned and are routinely auto-cleaned and self-flushed, there is no need for any manly supervision and no need for any worry about hygiene either. Chennai Corporation, for example, as part of its open defecation-free drive, has installed over 200 eToilets and solved the open defecation problem. The eToilet features self-cleaning mechanism, such as automatic pre-flush, automatic after-flush, automatic platform cleaning, automatic lights, and exhaust fan. eToilets are made of stainless steel which can last at least 20 years. There are no massive maintenance charges like caretaker salary, annual maintenance such as painting, tiling, etc.

sc6Another notable feature is the connected eToilet infrastructure. In order to enhance the quality of life of the public and to provide tourists with world-class facilities, eToilets can be connected over a GPRS network called Connected eToilet Infrastructure (CeTI). The network of eToilets would empower decision makers in metros and emerging cities to manage and monitor the performance of their public sanitation infrastructure. Eram Scientific has connected over 1000+ eToilets across the country. Using this facility, a traveler can access the eToilet map over a web interface and can view the locations of eToilets in his itinerary and plan on his halts, ahead of his journey. This system has brought in enhanced accountability towards public conveniences and ensures transparency in operations involving public welfare.

Indeed, Corporates can adopt the eToilet model to do away with all the major challenges of sanitation this country is   facing today. Many CSR initiatives setting up e-Toilets have been carried out in schools and public spaces.

Siddeek Ahmed is Chairman and Managing Director of Eram Group