I am Shanta Karki Chhetri and I currently serve as an Assistant Commissioner in Goalpara District, Assam. While serving as an executive officer, I worked closely with the urban sanitation team and hence, have always prioritized sanitation-led activities in the city. I believe that sanitation has a close link with public health, the environment, and women’s dignity, which is why I always strive to promote it. In 2019, we achieved the status of being an Open Defecation Free district and I truly believe that it is the right time for us to focus on safe management of human excreta.

As a public servant, I always put effort into treating wastewater and providing access to toilets or sewer connections in cities as solutions. However, there was always a gap in resources and technology. When I first heard about the faecal sludge and septage management approach, I was excited to implement it. But I was held back by my limited knowledge considering it was a completely new concept for me and the state. We didn’t have any Faecal Sludge Treatment Plants (FSTPs) or Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) in Assam in those days, and we needed to understand this solution better and ensure that this was a cost effective and scalable model before we invested in an FSTP.

After learning about FSTPs and the benefits from other states, I took the lead to mobilize resources and unlock funding. Thankfully, I received full support from the Deputy Commissioner, our state technical partners UNICEF, and the Women Development Center. After a round of meetings, we requested the state government to use the 15th Finance Commission fund to construct the FSTP plant in Goalpara. I am glad I took the lead because my ownership ensured we received all approvals and I felt proud to contribute towards the first FSTP of Assam.

But just when we thought everything was going smoothly, a new challenge emerged. The people living near the selected site protested against the FSTP. They had many misconceptions about how it would affect the soil and water around them, and even after many meetings and discussions, they filed a case against the FSTP. It was a difficult time for us, trying to sensitize people about how the FSTP will benefit their quality of life. I tried my best to handle the situation with the utmost care and patience. I submitted all relevant documents to the court, which explained how this was an environmentally friendly initiative to protect our environment and water sources, and also showcased the impact of similar models that had already been implemented in other states of India

Finally, the court ruled in favour of the FSTP and we were able to resume construction. It was a moment of joy and relief for me and my team. Today, as the FSTP nears completion, I am deliriously happy to see that many women self-help group (SHG) members are interested in leading this project and being part of the operation and maintenance of the FSTP. It is heartwarming to see how our efforts are generating livelihoods for women in the most difficult areas of Assam while protecting the environment.

UNICEF is committed to improving access to clean water, reliable sanitation, and basic hygiene practices in both rural and urban areas, including during emergencies. UNICEF India is part of the National Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (NFSSM) Alliance, which is a collaborative body driving the discourse on FSSM in India.

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