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Role of Sulabh International


Environmental Sanitation


Dr. BindeshwarPathak*

Ph.D., D.Litt.

I am immensely grateful to the organisers of this Workshop on Solid Waste Management, and especially to Hon’bleMs. Gurjot Kaur, Additional Chief Secretary and Director General of HCM Rajasthan State Institute of Public Administration, for giving me this opportunity to speak about Sulabh’s role in promotion of environmental sanitation. Lack of environmental sanitation is a global issue, which has assumed great importance in recent years. The problem is particularly acute in India where roughly 50 percent of the population still practices open defecation. The fundamentals and magnitude of sanitation problems facing our country are well-known and there is no need to reiterate them before such an enlightened audience. A mere glance at the objectives behind the on-going Swachh Bharat Mission makes it crystal clear that poor sanitation and absence ofproper toilets lead to environmental disaster as well as huge public health costs. The fact that a large part of India is still defecating in the open or using unsafe toilets, besides appalling lack of sanitary practices that we see all around us, points to the clear and present challenge before us. With these general remarks,I would like to come straight to the topic given to me.

Foregrounding the Sulabh Sanitation Movement

Sulabh International Social Service Organisation (popularly known as Sulabh) is India’s leading NGO which has been deeply involved in sanitation since its inception in 1970. Its mission has been to fulfil Mahatma Gandhi’s unfinished task to restore human rights and dignity to the untouchables, while providing affordable sanitation facilities to masses through out the country. Its vision is to create a healthy and hygienic India, free from the practice of open defecation and faecal pollution of environment. To realize its mission and vision, Sulabh has initiated a nationwide movement. While Sulabh International is an institution to implement its programmes and objectives, the Sulabh Sanitation Movement is a combination of hardware (technology) and software (information, education and communication—IEC) components of sanitation.

The organisation was set up against the backdrop of a search for finding a safe and affordable alternative to sewerage and septic tank systems for the disposal of human excreta, suited to India’s social and economic conditions. After Independence, various low-cost sanitation options were tried, alongside the attempts to find ways and means to abolish manual scavenging (the practice of cleaning and disposing excreta with bare hands), but without much success. State Governments, research institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) set their minds to evolve a suitable system for replacing the bucket/dry privies in urban and rural areas. These efforts did not achieve the desired results, as neither an acceptable toilet system nor aneffective programme for training and rehabilitation of the relieved scavengers could be evolved.

Amidst the discouraging circumstances—but inspired by Gandhi’s passion for sanitation and his dream of an India free from the bondage of manual scavengers—I laid the foundation of Sulabh to lead a movement for liberating the manual scavengers and ensuring clean environment through a safe and hygienic human waste disposal system.

The search for a viable technological alternative to replace ‘service latrines’ requiring the services of scavengers was not an easy one. Though there existed various alternative models for safe disposal of human excreta, namely sewage and septic tank, they were not found suitable for the country’s socio-cultural and economic conditions. And since a better and low-cost method was not available, manual scavenging could not be abolished and scavengers continued to be tied up with their unclean and socially degrading hereditary occupation.

After years of study and research on various technological alternatives to bucket/dry latrines, a solution emerged. The solution was pourflush waterseal latrine with two leach pits for on-site disposal of human excreta, popularly known as Sulabh Shauchalaya, meaning a convenient toilet. The innovation was a breakthrough in the Government of India’s programme for eradication of manual scavenging, because the system, as devised, proved affordable, technically sound, acceptable to the masses and easy enough to be set up with available local facilities.

After the innovation of Sulabh Shauchalaya, it took several years to gain ground and get the official approval for its countrywide implementation.The pilot project in a municipal town of Arrah in Bihar State proved so successful that the idea gradually caught the attention of appropriate authorities of other State Governments as well as the Government of India.The WHO, with the assistance of the Ministry of Works and Housing (now Urban Development), Government of India and UNICEF examined the Sulabh’s low-cost sanitation technology, and the experts found that it is the most appropriate low-cost sanitation technology having technical, social and cultural implication of far-reaching significance to deal with the problem of open defecation as well as the liberation of scavengers from a dehumanizing occupation.

The appreciation of the scheme by the relevant national and international bodies (Government of India, WHO, UNDP and UNICEF) soon led to the expansion of organisation’s programmes and activities in other States. When Sulabh’s network widened and was about to transcend the confines of Bihar State, the name of the organisation was changed from Sulabh Shauchalaya Sansthan to Sulabh International. The organisation has now become truly national and international in its outreach. The suffix ‘International’ is justified in as much as its idea and methodology of action has significance for developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, where the problem of environmental sanitation is equally complex and formidable.

In India, Sulabh now has branches in 25 states and 4 Union Territories. Today, there are 1.3 million household Sulabh toilets and 8000 public toilets all over India. Sulabh has a massive manpower base of over 60 thousand associate members and volunteers comprising social reformers, administrators, planners, engineers, scientists, social scientists, architects, medical doctors, sociologists, economists and social workers.

The concept and practice developed by us has received worldwide recognition and today many of the developing countries are replicating the model in their own country. It has been recognised by the UNDP as a global best practice which could be an instrument for achieving the Millennium Development Goals for providing sanitation and human excreta disposal facilities to more than 2 billion people across the world who have no such facilities.

Sulabh’s Objectives and Measures for Sanitation

Alongside liberation and rehabilitation of manual scavengers, Sulabh’s primary focus is prevention of environmental pollution and improvement of health, hygiene and ecology.Sulabh educates people not to defecate in the open, in lanes, bye-lanes, parks, streets, on roadside or on rail routes, etc. It motivates people to get bucket latrines converted to pour-flush toilet (Sulabh Shauchalayas), and also to set up toilet facility in houses where none exists. It provides community toilets with bathing, washing and urinal facilities on ‘pay and use’ basis in slums and for pavement dwellers, rickshaw pullers and the floating population, and also for those communities in whose houses latrines cannot be constructed due to space constraint. It motivatespeopleintheruralareastohavethetoilet facilities in their houses to save women, children and older people from the inconvenience of going out for defecation in the open and to protect them from the diseases like hookworm, ringworm and cholera etc., besides protecting the honour and dignity of women folk. It persuades people to plant trees around the public toilets for the protection of the environment.

Alongside these measures, Sulabh harnesses non-conventional energy sources from human waste and save fuel and forest. We make efforts to produce biogas from human excreta to be used either for cooking, preparing hot water for bathing, washing and warming bodies during winter season and to light mantle lamps; and convertbiogasintoelectricalenergywiththehelp of the dual-fuel engine to be used for lighting the streets, community complexes and houses. We procure manure from the Sulabh Shauchalayas and Sulabh Complexes and use it to raise farm productivity. We assist the Government in providing safe and sustainable sanitation facilities to the people in rural and urban areas.

Through inventing some cutting-edge technologies, our activities have now expanded to include waste water and solid waste treatment as well.

How Sulabh toilet is effective and ensures safe environment

The Sulabh toilet consists of pan with a steep slope of 250 to 300 and trap with 20 mm waterseal needing onelitre of water for flushing. The excreta are carried into leach pits through pipes or covered drain: one pit is to be used at a time. The liquid infiltrates and gases disperse into the soil through the holes in the pit lining. When one pit is full, the excreta are diverted to the second pit. In about 1.5 to 2 years, the contents of the pit already filled get digested and become safe for handling. The pit can then be conveniently emptied and made ready to be put back to use after the second pit is full. Thus, the two pits can be used alternately and permanently. The sludge of the pit is good manure for use in horticulture/agriculture.

The Sulabh toilet fulfils all the conditions for safe environment.It does not contaminate the surface soil, ground water and surface water.It does not allow excreta accessible to flies or animals, and there is no need of manual handling of excreta. Advantages of Sulabh toilets are several. It is hygienically and technically appropriate, culturally acceptable, and affordableandeasytoconstructwithlocallyavailable materials.Design and specification can be modified to suit householder’s needs and affordability. It can be constructed in different physical, geologicaland hydro-geological conditions.Maintenance is easy, simple and costs very little.It needs only one litre of water for flushing, while conventional flush toilet needs 10 litre of water.It doesnotneedtheservicesofscavengersforcleaning the pits or disposal of sludge; the householders can do this.It makes available rich fertilizer and soil conditioner. It can be easily connected to sewers when introducedin the area.A low volume flushing cistern could be attached to avoid pour flushing.

Our challenge was to take this model to the people at large and make it acceptable to them, which involved the difficult task of changing the attitude of the people towards better sanitation and motivating them to have Sulabh toiletsfor their households and use it. Sulabh’s trained social workers started door-to-door campaign, motivating the people in accepting the new technology and educating them to properly use and maintain their own latrines. Our organisation was instrumental in motivating the Government of Bihar to provide 50% grant and 50% loan to the beneficiaries through the local authorities for conversion programme. Our efforts yielded results in Bihar and later in other States, after the WHO and the Government of India vindicated the Sulabh toilet technology. Thus, it was Sulabh which showed the path for adoption of low cost sanitation system on a large scale, which was finally accepted all over India. Sulabh International has so far converted/constructed 1.3 million toilets/privies into Sulabh toilets and constructed new ones in houses where none existed before.The system developed by Sulabh is responsible for the emancipation of scavengers from the task of manual handling of human excreta and has direct impact on the improvement of community health and environment.

Public Conveniences: Sulabh Community Toilet Complexes

To supplement the household sanitation system, Sulabh conceived the idea of construction and maintenance of public toilet complexes in the urban areas mainly for the pavement dwellers, the floating population and the local population which cannot afford to have latrines in their houses for lack of space or for economic reasons. It is generally observed that public conveniences put up by the civic authorities soon fall out of use simply because of lack of proper cleaning and maintenance. These facilities get neglected and in a short while become the source of health hazard and people hardly use them.

The year 1974 was a landmark in the history of sanitation when Sulabhintroduced its own design of construction of Sulabh Toilet Complexes and operating and maintaining them on ‘pay and use’ basis charging a nominal amount from the users of latrine and bath, the use of urinals being free. These complexes became popular and created public demand. The design of Sulabh Complexes has special features. There are separate enclosures for men and women. Toilet complexes also have urinals and bath with continuous supply of water. Special squatting pans are provided for children. Soap powder is provided to the users for washing their hands. Green trees and shrubs are planted to create shade and to make the complexes pleasing to the eye.

The good standard of cleanliness and maintenance of Sulabh Complexes are their main attraction. They are kept open day and night with round the clock service of attendants and supervisors for operational management and to keep the complexes neat and clean. The funds generated by the collections from these complexes are used for their routine and long-term maintenance and to meet the organisational expenses. Thus it relieves the local authorities from day-to- day maintenance.

The Sulabh Complexes with a ‘Pay and Use’ system have now found acceptance throughout the country and have earned international appreciation also. Till now more than 8,000 such public toilets have been constructed and are being maintained by Sulabh. These complexes are located in public places, bus stands, hospitals, market places and slums. The system of operation and maintenance of community toilets has proved a boon to the local bodies in their endeavour to keep the town clean and improve environment. A unique example of partnership between local authorities, an NGO and the community,Sulabh’s concept of such ‘pay and use’ toilets is an important contribution to the promotion of environmental sanitation in the country.

Sulabh WASH Campaign

Recently Sulabh has launched WASH campaign as part of its commitment to provide safe sanitation. Sulabh has prepared its volunteer force to reach out to urban slums, squatter colonies and remote villages to approach women to inform them about the key issues and objectives of WASH. Initially Sulabh imparted training to 750 women volunteers from 12 urban slums in Delhi regarding the various aspects of health and hygiene and safe drinking water. These volunteers acting as lead persons undertook door-to-door canvassing on safe drinking water, health and hygiene. So far more than 12,000 persons, mostly women, have been trained.

Sulabh has printed on a massive scale the posters, pamphlets, banners with attractive messages on health, sanitation and hygiene and distributed them in different slums and other areas. Under its aegis and with the supportof Government of India, Sulabh started a News Letter to disseminate the information on safe water, sanitation, etc. A wide range of communication materials for local adaptation and application has been prepared for free distribution in selected impoverished neighbourhoods in both cities and villages. Women are targeted as the main beneficiaries of the Sulabh’s WASH campaign. Sulabh’s WASH Campaign was kick started by a well-known female cine star as proof of Sulabh’s focus on women in its nationwide campaign.

Under its WASH campaign Sulabh has setup three ‘Sulabh School Sanitation Clubs’ in Orissa in the month of July 2004 and is currently engaged in the setting up of similar clubs in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Maharashtra. This campaign is readying itself to improve the sanitation and hygiene behaviour of people living in slums, villages and other selected unhygienic urban localities/settlements by creating awareness towards the use of clean water and sanitation.

Sulabh Technologies Key to Improved Sanitation

International Academy of Environmental Sanitation, erstwhile known as Sulabh International Institute of Technical Research and Training (SIITRAT) was started in 1984 with the objective of carrying out applied and fundamental research as well as training and consultancy work on various issues related to social, environmental and technical developments in the country. During the last two decades SIITRAT has carried out significant researches and consultancy projects on sustainable technologies like biogas plants, duckweed ponds, materials and designs of pan and trap of toilet, waste water disposal and treatment, solid waste management, bio-medical waste management etc. Following are some of the important technology-centred research projects carried out by SIITRAT:

Duckweed Technology for Effluent Treatment: The use of duckweed this for treatment of waste waterhas been tried out earlier in other countries like China, Bangladesh in rural and peri-urban areas but not in urban areas. Sulabh took this initiative for urban areas. In Delhi, a pilot project was taken up which showed that through duckweed, waste water could be treated after which the water becomes pure enough for pisciculture. Duckweed-based waste water treatment units have been installed in Orissa, Bengal, Punjab and Haryana. It is proved by now that through the use of duckweed, waste water in small towns having a population up to one hundred thousand, can be treated and can generate revenue through pisciculture.

Water Hyacinth Technology: The water hyacinth too can be used for treating the waste water as well as for increasing the production in a biogas plant based on cow dung or human excreta. The water hyacinth should be dried and powdered to be used in the biogas plant mixed with a little quantity of cow dung. The use of water hyacinth enhances the production of gas 3-4 times. So even with one cow and one calf a family may get biogas for 8-10 hours. From experience it was found that most of the biogas plants were not functioning properly in India because of improper feed.

Biofertilizer: In Sulabh toilet technology, 40 kg of fertilizer is obtained per annum per person. If it is calculated for 700 million people @ 40 kg. The production of manure roughly works out to 28 million tonnes per annum, the cost of which is roughly 15,000 crore of rupees. So while on the one hand it can help minimise the use of chemical fertilizers, on the other, it can raise agricultural productivity. In the world today there is demand for use of biofertilizer in agriculture and horticulture. It has been found that traces of chemical fertilizers remain in the food that people consume which ultimately find their way to the body and affect adversely the health system. So this technology is also of great value in the field of production of biofertilizers. Since the water discharged from the public toilets also contains phosphate, nitrogen and potash, it is very beneficial and could also be garnered in large quantities if the biogas technology is used in all the public toilets, housing colonies and high-rise buildings to be built in the future.

Sulabh Thermophilic Aerobic Composter (STAC): Sulabh has developed a new technology—Sulabh Thermophilic Aerobic Composter (STAC)—that requires only 8 to 10 days to make compost from any biodegradable wastes without any manual handling during composting. It is based on thermophilic aerobic method. The technology does not requirerecurring expenditure. The plant is G.I. sheet made having double wall filled with glass wool, partitioned with perforated sheet into three chambers. After biodegradation, liquid is collected in bottom chamber that can be easily taken out and used for agricultural/ horticultural purposes. Manure that contains 30-35% moisture can be directly used for agriculture/landfill purposes or it can be dried, granulated and stored till further use. The practical utilities of this technology are: (i) organic solid waste can be efficiently converted into manure and soil conditioner having direct/indirect economic return, (ii) it can control diseases transmitted from wastes, as at high temperature pathogens are eliminated from the waste, (iii) due to reduction in volume, carriage cost of wastes to disposal site as well as area needed for landfills will be drastically reduced, and (iv) spread of weeds from wastes will also be controlled. This technology is more suited for rural areas as its byproducts (compost) can be readily used for agricultural purposes, and it reduces health hazards.

It has a well-equipped laboratory with testing facilities and also for undertaking research and development in waste water treatment methods, low-cost sanitation technologies, development and improvement of biogas digester system etc. One of its achievements has been testing, on the recommendation of the Delhi Pollution Control Board, the samples from effluent treatment plants of various industries in Delhi and providing certificates about quality of the effluent discharged.

Under a project funded by the European Union and in collaboration with the Bremen Overseas Research and Development Agency (BORDA), Sulabh has developed a Low Maintenance Wastewater Treatment System(LOMWATS), under which as many as ten such treatment plants have been implemented and it is in the process of dissemination of the technology all over India.

A few other important Research and Development and Consultancy Projects are mentioned below:

Waste Water Management

Prevention of pollution of the river Yamuna.

Low Maintenance and Decentralized WasteTreatment System.

Contingent evaluation survey for the Ganga Action Plan (users benefit survey), Haridwar, U.P.

Consultancy for the preparation of project report on water supply, sewerage, storm water drainage and solid waste management in the proposed Ranka town, a satellite town of Gangtok, Sikkim.

Dal Lake conservation project under the National lake conservation plan.

Solid Waste Management

Hospital Waste Management in Ludhiana town, Punjab.

Occupational Health Risks of Safai Karmacharies (Scavengers) Handling Solid Waste in Ghaziabad town (Uttar Pradesh).

Recycling and reuse of organic solid waste through thermophilic aerobic method.

Solid waste management for the domestic andcommercial sectors.

Apart from these, Sulabh has been intensively engaged in consultancy and execution of a number of cost-effective and environmental-friendly sanitation measures and programmes of slum improvement, assisted by the Government of India, State Governments and international bodies like World Bank.

Today, millions of people are being benefitted by the various Sulabh technologies mentioned above. Apart from the tremendous beneficial impact on environmental sanitation and community health, it has also resulted in socio-cultural development and economic benefits. International Academy of Environmental Sanitation proposes to further promote the objectives and functions undertaken by SIITRAT. It envisages that it would have a much larger mandate of acting as an international centre of holistic learning and education of all issues related to promotion of sanitation. The objective is to treat sanitation as a major field of education and study, revitalising training programmes involving highly qualified sanitation experts, engineers, health professionals, social scientists, ecologists and scholars from all other related fields. The Academy aims at bringing sanitation into sharp focus of academic activities and research nationally, regionally and globally. Towards this end the Academy is being planned to be set up on an ambitious scale in a 44 acre plot in Gurgaon and is being envisaged to be a deemed university.

Sulabh’s March Towards Rural Sanitation

Since its inception, Sulabh International has beenintenselyengaged in the area of rural sanitation. Sulabh has already designed several models of rural latrines suited to different socio-cultural, physical, geological and hydro geological conditions of villages in different parts of the country. Sulabh has been advocating the promotion of two-pit pour flush toilets designed for rural areas. The Sulabh type individual toilets are an ideal solution to open air defecation in rural areas, where problems of insanitation abound, and where excreta disposal is a matter of letting nature take its own course.

Sulabh has launched a sanitation promotion programme for sanitary latrines in rural areas. The important components of this programme are motivation, communication support, community involvement, health education and publicity through audio-visual aids. For this, volunteers have been trained in the technology, methodology, implementation and follow up work. Presently, it is engaged in the implementation of rural sanitation programme in the States like Bihar, Orissa, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. It is also engaged in a countrywide promotional campaign involving dissemination of information, motivation of potential users/adopters and extension education and follow up in other States too. A campaign has been launched to make the people in rural areas aware about the need and significance of personal, household and community sanitation. The organisation has published sanitation literature in 24 languages which is being distributed by Sulabh volunteers in villages all over the country.

The implementation of the sanitation programme will require social mobilisation on a large scale which will include people belonging to various groups. Politicians and policy makers will have to be involved in a big way so that they can take interest in policy decisions in favour of sanitation programme. The social mobilisation would also include village elders, doctors, lawyers and school teachers. Print media, radio and television will have to be fully involved in the implementation of the programme.

Holistic Approach and Social Sensitivity Produced Results

The human issues related to environmental sanitation made me not only grasp that sanitation is a matter of life and death, but also the fact that the safe disposal of human waste and environmental cleanliness are linked to some key social issues. As the social and sanitation issues are interlinked, the problem of sanitation cannot be solved unless certain social imperatives are met. Fostering social reform is essential for an effective solution to the massive sanitary problems—600 million people without toilets and its tragic health and environmental consequences—that India faces. Through this integrated approach and its resolute implementation in the form of launching a movement to liberate the manual scavengers, developing the suitable toilet technology, and building thousands of household and public toilets all across the country, Sulabh strove to change the dismal situation in which millions of Indians were trapped.

As a movement that combined social reform with technological innovation, Sulabh during its four-decade old campaign has made a palpable difference in the lives of millions of Indians. With our efforts thousands of untouchables doing the subhuman work of disposing human waste manually have been liberated and rehabilitated in the social mainstream. Well over 200 towns have been made scavenging-free with our sensitization and action on the ground.

Alongside the sanitary work, we started schools in Patna, Delhi and other places to educate the children from weaker sections, helping them to break the vicious cycle of scavenging–illiteracy–dependency. We set up several vocational centres to provide the affected women and children with alternative economic opportunities. We followed this up with initiating several religious and cultural measures to integrate them in the social mainstream. We took the upper-caste people to visit the untouchables’ homes and vice versa. Whenever possible, we organized the inter-caste meeting and commensality.

In continuity of our innovative initiatives to empower the downtrodden—Sulabh set up Nai Disha, a vocational centre in Alwar, Rajasthan, where manual scavengers (earlier engaged in manual cleaning of excreta) get stipend and are trained in tailoring, embroidery, beauty treatments, and in preparing eatables like pickles and papad. Now their products including eatables like pickles, papad and noodles are purchased and relished by the upper-caste people who earlier shunned any contact with them.

Our campaign to bring together different caste groups also ensured that the liberated manual scavengers visit the homes of—and interact with—the privileged-caste people, and vice versa. As the dalits’ social and economic distance from the traditionally privileged castes gets reduced, the former untouchables feel they are on a par with the upper-caste people. On the other side, the toilet complexes that we have built all over India are mostly manned by the upper-caste people who earlier considered toilet and anything related to human waste as taboo. By bringing the upper-caste people in the sanitary work and taking out the former untouchables from demeaning work like cleaning excreta manually and providing them alternative respectable employment, Sulabh has challenged the rigid and discriminatory framework of caste. All this has contributed to slacken the casteist mindset and caste barriers, thus starting the process of eradicating various forms of social discriminations.

To conclude, through its ideology, orientation and activities, Sulabh has created a critical awareness for sanitation and an attitudinal change in people towards health, hygiene and environmental cleanliness. Though the cruel practice of manual cleaning of excreta still lingers in some places, and the scale of environmental pollution remains dangerously high, as a large number of Indians still lack basic sanitation and toilets, Sulabh has shown the way to solve these problems. A key factor in the success of Sulabh is creating public awareness and seeking community participation in implementing and maintaining the sanitation infrastructure. By sustained campaigns, education, and demonstration, Sulabh has made a critical difference in the country’s environmental sanitation. But much more needs to be done. The present Union Government has seriously recognised this with its historic launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which is a national mission to make India free from open defecation and make our streets, roads, and infrastructure clean by 2019. Sulabh is actively cooperating with the Government toturn this mission into a national movement for sanitation that can ensure health, hygiene and good living for every Indian.

With these words, I once again thank all of you for giving me this wonderful opportunity to be with you and for keenly listening to me.

Thank you.