Smart Toilets the Way Forward in Digital India?

Published: 19th November 2015 06:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th November 2015 06:44 AM   |  A+A-

HYDERABAD: The speed at which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan was adopted in the country was pleasantly surprising. From filmstars  to sports personalities, every one picked up the broom and cleaned up the streets.  But what most of us are unaware of are the many other objectives of the programme  that include elimination of open defecation and constructing sanitary toilets in every household. As today is marked World Toilet Day by the United Nations, Rajitha S finds out more    

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A sustainable waste management initiative

While the battle for a toilet in every household in the country is on, there are people like Namita Banka who have been struggling to create something more sustainable. Something that is much more than just a toilet and came up with biodigester toilets.  “It is like any other set up, but the waste pipe is fitted to a bio digester, a box like structure. This is filled with anaerobic bacteria cultivated to bio degrade human waste,” explains Namita. Banka Bio, her company is the license holder for the bacteria cultured by the Defence Research and Development Organisation.

Namiami.jpgBack in the year 2008, the  42-year-old entrepreneur was looking to build a sustainable waste management project. It was also a time when she was working closely with the Indian Railways. “They were dealing with sanitation problems and were looking to make some changes in the system. The people in the team were all men and it is only natural that they didn’t know about all the problems we women face,” recalls Namita.

It was a learning process for Namita and her team to discover all the issues related to sanitation. “I was asked to help out and that is how my association with the Indian Railways started,” she tells us.

All those who have travelled in a train in India are familiar with the fact that the let out of these toilets is the rail tracks. Eventually the Indian Railways adopted the Control Discharge Toilet System, where the toilets have a retention pan under, that holds the waste. “This waste is discharged at regular intervals. But what we came to know is that apart from human waste, various kinds of garbage was also being dumped, clogging the system. There is a need to spread awareness and also monitoring,” she points out.

While she was gathering these experiences and providing the biodigesters, her team was also looking for places where they can install them. “I grew up in a metropolitan and I was looking for places to install a sustainable waste management system. But I came to realise that there were toilets missing in rural India,” says an embarrassed and shocked Namita.

She then took it upon herself to do what is needed, only offer something that is much better equipped -- a biodigester toilet that gives people a space to relieve themselves and also put that waste to use.  With the help of NGOs they currently have their presence in Rajasthan, Orissa, North East and even Karnataka. Though they are based in Hyderabad, they are currently not in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, ask her why?

“Our states are in a much better state than the others and we would eventually enter these states too,” signs off Namita who is an active part of the Swachh Bharat campaign that aims to have a toilet in every household in the country.

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I avoid relieving myself while travelling in trains. Well, that’s something I do as a habit. Avoid going to the toilets on a train and test my bladder’s elasticity for hours! They say it can affect my health but that’s the way I’ve conditioned myself. I’m extremely paranoid about public loos particularly on trains.

— Harini Rao, classical singer

I feel the city does have proper facilities but there is always a rush like say in shopping malls or multiplexes. This is because these are the only places where women can relieve themselves. What we need is definitely a larger number of washrooms to counter the bigger population. After finding a spot and then waiting outside the wash is definitely another concern.

— Rangoli Garg, Artist

In India, I dread to travel to such places, so I avoid. As a documentary filmmaker, I had to visit a number of rural areas as I documented the lives and cultures of certain indegenous tribes. During my shoots in those areas we had to adopt the ways of the tribes and do it in the open air, the only fear being snakes.

— Vijaya Pratap, documentary filmmaker

I usually try to buy something from stores or restaurants and ask to use their restroom. But not always because most people I’ve met have been helpful with letting me use washrooms, at least restaurant and shop owners. Otherwise I try to survive on very little water until I can find a clean place. Some bus stations charge money to use their toilets and do not keep them clean either so I try to use those from restaurants. But having a clean public toilet to use is something that I saw only in Gangtok.

— Swati Yellajosyula, frequent traveller

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