With a year and a half into his tenure as the Deputy Commissioner of Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC), Suvendu Sahoo has been involved in planning, implementing and monitoring      all sanitation-led interventions in the capital city of Odisha. 

The state of Odisha has always focused on Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM) as the go-to approach for improving sanitation services. According to Sahoo, a typical Indian household calls desludging services only once the septic tank becomes full whereas it is typically considered good practice to desludge septic tanks once every two to three years, or when it becomes two-thirds full. It has always been a challenge to overcome the  issue of regular desludging. But with robust regulatory frameworks of urban local bodies, his office ensured a strong provision for periodic desludging, safe transportation and proper treatment of faecal waste. 

Given women and girls are the most affected by lack of access to sanitation facilities, the     absence of sanitation makes them vulnerable and exposes them to the risk of many diseases. Under Sahoo’s guidance, the aim of providing affordable and inclusive sanitation services to especially women and vulnerable groups was always a priority task at hand. In his efforts to do so, affordable desludging services were made accessible to urban poor communities in the city so that they don’t have to solely rely on the expensive services of private cesspool operators. 


LEADERSHIP THAT ENSURED SAFE SANITATION IN THE PANDEMIC


At the initial stages of the pandemic, people called coronavirus a ‘rich man’s disease’ or a high-class import that many poor and the working-class believed wouldn’t affect them. But then, as infections began to spread, COVID-19 impacted all populations regardless of their background. With quarantines and a nationwide lockdown, most of the services came to a halt and sanitation was no exception. 

The pandemic instilled fear among sanitation workers and the COVID-19 protocols were limiting and challenging to their work. In such a scenario, the safety of the sanitation workers was very important. To get the sanitation workers donned in a PPE suit, face mask, rubber gloves and boots, and adhere to the COVID-safe behaviour like social distancing and constant hand-washing, had become our utmost priority and it overshadowed most of the other sanitation priorities that were earlier planned for 2020, added Sahoo.

The awareness about the severity of the pandemic was amplified amongst all community members. The Urban Wage Employment Initiatives (UWEI) scheme launched by Housing and Urban Development Department during the pandemic aided Sahoo's office in Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation in implementing IEC via wall paintings related to FSSM in all the wards of the city. The result of which, further helped increase livelihood and employment opportunities as the UWEI had envisioned to. 

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of sanitation in preventing and containing illnesses and diseases. Managing sanitation services is a challenge for      society as a whole but under the leadership of the Commissioner, the BMC made sure we delivered adequate sanitation services to the people of Bhubaneswar, said Sahoo.

To cover the needs of the households living in urban slums, and to ensure that the situation does not  become a threat to people’s health, biodiversity and sustainable development, BMC under Sahoo’s guidance, introduced affordable desludging services along with permissions to private desludging operators to ensure sustained FSM services.      

GOING FORWARD

 

 

With support from the state government, the BMC is looking forward to operationalising Bhubaneswar's second Septage Treatment Plant (STP). As per Sahoo, Faecal Sludge and Septage Management is the only way forward to a safer and more sustainable access to sanitation for all. 


National Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Alliance

The National Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Alliance is a collaborative body, convened in 2016 and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, working with governments and decision-makers across the country at national, state and city levels to drive safe and sustainable urban sanitation in India.

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