In recent years, the Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM) has made considerable progress towards making the country open defecation free (ODF) through provision of individual household toilets (IHHT) and community toilets. Apart from covering access to toilets, the issue of containment of human waste has also largely been covered by SBM, however, the disposal and treatment of such waste still poses a huge challenge, and has tremendous implications on public health and safety of the people. While larger cities and towns often have a centralized sewerage network complete with underground pipelines, pumping stations and huge treatment plants, over 7000 smaller towns, are often dependent on on-site sanitation systems (OSS) like pit latrines and septic tanks. These OSS need to be designed well for proper containment and storage. For septic tanks, a major fault in design is lack of a proper lining of the tank which results in fecal waste leaching into the ground. In case of pit latrines, a twin pit is recommended as one pit can contain waste while the other converts stored waste into manure. However, only 26% of all latrines have twin pit system1 , and people mostly rely on single pit toilets where a new pit needs to be dug every time the old one fills up. Further, due to faulty design, single pit latrines are susceptible to overflowing during floods and can end up contaminating soil and water in the surrounding areas.
These issues are further exacerbated due to the lack of formal private players when it comes to emptying, transportation and disposal of sludge. There is a dominance of informal small-scale contractors for these roles which makes it difficult to monitor their processes for collection and disposal and therefore, institutionalizing best practices and regulations can be challenging. Additionally, lack of resources such as suction emptier trucks, safety equipment, trained personnel, and finances available with Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), hamper service delivery to households. Consequently, of the 62000 MLD (million liters per day) of human waste that is generated in urban India per day, treatment capacity is available for only 37%2 .
Recognizing the key challenges of safe desludging, treatment and reuse of human waste, National Fecal Sludge and Septage Management Policy was launched in 2017 by the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India with key inputs from NFSSM Alliance, a collaborative body which drives the discourse of faecal sludge and septage management (FSSM) forward in India. Keeping in view the current dependence on OSS, the Policy proposes decentralized sanitation approaches as a viable alternative to centralized sewerage systems. Furthermore, the scope of the policy extends to all Central government schemes, programs and projects which facilitate sanitation services, urban development, and improved delivery of services in urban and peri-urban areas of India. This allows the policy to support synergies among the relevant programs like SBM, AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) and the Smart Cities Mission to realize safe and sustainable sanitation for all.
The key objective of the urban FSSM Policy is to set the context, priorities, and direction for, and to facilitate, nationwide implementation of FSSM services in all Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) such that safe, inclusive and sustainable sanitation becomes a reality for all. To achieve this key objective, the policy takes a comprehensive approach involving delegation of roles and responsibilities to government bodies – especially ULBs, and other key stakeholders like private sector, civil society organizations and citizens for effective implementation of FSSM services. While aiming to meet the environmental discharge standards, the policy acknowledges the constraints in achieving these and accordingly takes an appropriate, affordable, and incremental approach towards achieving these standards. Similar to other aspects of life where caregiving roles burden women and girls, even in sanitation, women are responsible for the cleaning of household latrines and disposing fecal waste while lacking access to proper sanitation facilities. These complexities expose women to risk of physical violence and compounds health issues. Therefore, the policy incorporates a gender lens in the design and planning of sanitation infrastructure so as to mitigate the gender-based sanitation insecurity directly related to FSSM, reducing the experience of health burdens and structural violence.
The legal context for FSSM includes strengthening municipalities, improving environment laws, ensuring safety of sanitation workers, regulation of services, and reinforcing institutional laws that provide for the establishment, powers, and functions of local authorities. The Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Government of India (GoI) will be responsible for the overall guidance, coordination, and interpretation of this Policy. Recognizing that sanitation is a state subject, the policy mandates that each state and city form their own FSSM strategy and integrate the same in their respective State and city sanitation plans in overall conformity to the National Policy.
The policy addresses various gaps in the sanitation value chain. The key solutions which the policy aims to achieve are:
Guidelines for Design:
Promoting proper design and construction of OSS facilities to ensure there are no leakages and leaching, and ensuring that the new septic tanks built are accessible for easy emptying.
Awareness Generation and Behavior Change:
Generating awareness about faecal sludge and septage management and its linkages with public and environmental health, and making households and community take up the responsibility of ensuring safe containment and management of faecal sludge and septage.
With these interventions and solutions, NFSSM Policy framework is expected to achieve containment, collection, and conveyance of human waste to treatment and disposal sites with the involvement of different stakeholders and citizen partnership. Through continuous improvements and bridging major gaps in FSSM chain, it is expected that contamination of water bodies will be prevented leading to a drastic fall in incidences of water-borne diseases, innovative reuse of treated sludge can potentially reduce water dependence and increase energy efficiency. Further, the risks faced by the marginalized sections of society such as sanitation workers, women and girls can also be mitigated through better health and safety outcomes.