DRDO's bio-toilets raise a stink

Questions raised over technology which allegedly uses cow dung instead of imported bacteria

Published: 13th August 2016 06:21 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th August 2016 06:21 AM   |  A+A-

BHUBANESWAR: The much-hyped bio-toilets invented by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and installed in railway coaches, public places and colonies seem to have sparked of a controversy with some senior scientists raising voice against the functioning and technology which allegedly uses cow dung instead of imported bacteria.

Developed by Gwalior-based Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDE) and Tezpur-based Defence Research Laboratory (DRL), both laboratories of DRDO, the bio-toilets, fondly known as 'E-loo', use anaerobic microbial bacteria to decompose and convert biological human excreta into usable water and gasses.

DRDO.jpgThough initially, the bio-toilets installed in high-altitude regions such as Siachen and Ladakh performed as expected for a certain period, now many of them are reportedly abandoned or unused for obvious reasons leading to objections from the armed forces.     

While the DRDO said the anaerobic bacteria have been imported from Antarctica and can effectively function in extreme conditions and temperature ranging from -6 degree Celsius to 50 degree C, a group of DRDO scientists claimed that the imported bacteria cannot survive in high temperature.

"Since such type of anaerobic bacteria are abundantly available in cow dung, the cattle waste is now being used in bio-toilets while the research organisation is hoodwinking the people in the name of technology development by wasting crores. Like the bio-toilets, the normal septic toilets also have a perfect anaerobic environment with the only difference being addition of cow dung in the name of inoculum culture in the former," they said. 

According to senior DRDO scientist Dr Y Ashok Babu, who has lodged a complaint with the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) seeking a probe into it, the imported bacteria worked perfectly well in the laboratory but did not work efficiently in the Siachen region, for which a solar panel heating system was added to accelerate digestion process.

"There is no requirement of specific bacteria in the normal temperature and local bacteria in the septic tank will do the same task more efficiently if cow dung is added to it. The technology is a farce which allows a handful of greedy business people to earn crores of rupees," the complaint stated. 

DRDE Director Dr Lokendra Singh, however, refuted the allegations. He said the cow dung is used only to multiply the bacteria brought from Antarctica, which can survive in Indian conditions. "Actually the cow dung used in the toilets is not the cattle waste but the bacteria which are transported through it. The toilets are working perfectly for which the Railways has given bulk orders," he claimed.

The DRDO has so far made the transfer of technology (ToT) agreement with 56 companies which are producing bio-toilets at a cost ranging from Rs 15,000 to Rs 75 lakh depending on the volume of population using it and quality of materials. 

Singh informed that while already 40,000 bio-toilets have been installed in railway coaches, additional 80,000 toilets are to be installed shortly. Besides, around 20,000 E-loos have been placed in colonies, urban areas and villages. The Indian Railways has planned to install 2.5 lakh toilets in all coaches by October 2, 2019.

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