Saturday, July 28, 2012

Centre launches bio-toilets to curb open defecation

By Ankur Paliwal, DownToEarth, July 26, 2012

In a major step meant to eliminate open defecation, the Central government has decided to build 100,000 bio-digester toilets in the country in the next two years. The initiative will be part of the Centre’s flagship programme, total sanitation mission. The target is to be achieved through collaboration between the department of drinking water and sanitation under Union ministry of rural development and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

A bio-digester toilet developed by DRDO degrades human waste through an anaerobic process into usable water and gas. The water can be used for irrigation and methane gas as cooking fuel.

Of the 240,000 gram panchayats in the country, only a dismal number have sanitation facilities. Under the first phase of the initiative, 100,000 toilets will be set in 300 gram panchayats of the country for which the ministry will spend Rs 150 crore. The implementation will be done by DRDO. The scheme will be scaled up further based on the learning from the first phase. Currently, only one state in India, Sikkim, is free of open-defecation.

“The MoU has been signed to demonstrate the effect of these toilets,” says V Ramachandran, secretary with department of drinking water and sanitation. One bio-digester toilet costs Rs 15,000. “The cost is expected to come down with the scaling up of the toilets,” he adds.

Though initially the toilets will be set up in panchayats across the country, Indian Railways has also shown keen interest in the initiative. “To start with, 436 coaches in nine trains will be retrofitted with these toilets between 2012 and 2013,” says W Selvmurthy, secretary with DRDO. “In the next five years, 50,000 coaches will be retrofitted with these toilets,” he adds.

On the benefits of such toilets, Selvmurthy says that the bio-digester technology does not have any geographical or temperature limitation. It can be set up in any high, low or plain area. “We got the bacteria from Antarctica, cultured it and acclimatised it at different altitudes and weather conditions to see its performance,” he adds.

According to the government’s statistics, 50 per cent of the population in India does not have a toilet in their premises. Of this, 67 per cent exist in rural areas. Under the total sanitation mission, the government aims to eliminate the problem of open defecation by 2022. “The launch of these bio-digester toilets is a step in that direction,” says Jairam Ramesh, Union minster for rural development. Open defecation is not just a social and aesthetic nuisance, it also results in a lot of water-borne diseases, he adds. The technology can also help in rooting out the challenge of manual scavenging. “There are around 1.5 million insanitary latrines in the country where manual scavenging happens,” he adds

DRDO had launched its bio-digester toilets a month ago in partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in Dhamra district of Odisha. Six bio-digester toilets were constructed along the Jhamjhadi-Dhamra highway. Impressed by these toilets, it was at Odisha launch that Ramesh had announced that his ministry will soon sign an MoU with DRDO to set up these toilets across the country.


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