Owing to the open defecation free (ODF) target of Swachh Bharat Mission, sanitation has been a much talked about subject in mainstream consciousness. However, sanitation is considered almost synonymous with access to toilets, which, no doubt is an integral part, but not the complete solution for all issues and aspects related with sanitation. A large part of sanitation involves how the waste is managed after being flushed. A complete sanitation value chain goes beyond access to toilets and incorporates treatment and disposal of waste.
After flushing, if the waste is not contained properly, or it is not treated and disposed safely, it might end up contaminating water bodies and soil which can pose serious health and environmental hazards. The incidence of diseases like diarrhea is strongly linked with unsafe sanitation practices and drinking water. 90% of all deaths from diarrhea in India, particularly in children, are caused due to lack of clean drinking water and basic sanitation services. Safe sanitation and proper collection, treatment and disposal are instrumental in ensuring a safe water supply to the people.
There are two systems by which waste can be contained and directed to treatment facilities from where it can be disposed of:
Centralized systems involve much higher cost and technical skills to build, operate and maintain. Owing to the high cost and technical expertise required for maintenance, only about 30% of India’s urban sewage is currently treated2 . Since most of the toilets in urban India are connected to on-site containment systems like septic tanks and pits, it necessary to properly manage the fecal sludge and septage accumulated by them so that an effective alternative to centralized systems can be established.
In OSS, many tanks are not designed properly which allows the fecal sludge to leach into the surrounding land. Further, due to the prevalence of informal desludging operators whose activities and processes cannot be monitored, it is difficult to ensure that the emptying of tanks is done safely and the waste is not disposed of in open water or land.
Urban Local Bodies such as municipal corporations, town panchayats, municipalities etc. are responsible for ensuring sanitation services for people. With capacity building programs and engagement with key stakeholders in the sanitation value chain, ULBs can ensure that an evidence-based sanitation plan is prepared for the whole city and best practices are ensured at each step of the sanitation value chain.
Warangal in Telangana is the first Indian city to implement FSSM regulations. The implementation involved identifying existing problems and challenges with sanitation. Post identification, training was carried out for stakeholders like masons on proper construction of septic tanks, and private desludging operators on emptying and use of PPE. Thereafter, licenses were issued, desludging trucks were fitted with GPS for real-time tracking via an app. Fecal Sludge Treatment Plants were constructed at identified point in the city for quick conveyance of sludge. A helpline was also launched to enable citizens to access masons and desludging operators and also to seek technical help or convey their grievances.
Further, through regular monitoring the Great Warangal Municipal Corporation could also ensure that the standards and benchmarks which were set up were being maintained.
Take a tour of India’s first FSTP
Given the prevalence of on-site sanitation systems and the capabilities of local government bodies, FSSM is a model which can easily be implemented, scaled up and replicated across the country with adaptations as per local needs. As opposed to centralized sewerage networks, FSSM is a much more convenient, adaptable and cheaper method which can enable us to achieve 100% sanitation sooner.