Insights into Editorial: Think small: Decentralised sludge management systems
The nationwide sanitation movement of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been successful in not just eradicating open defecation from numerous towns and villages across India, but is also creating a national consciousness in terms of sanitation and cleanliness.
But the mere task of building toilets will do India no good, unless a National policy for treating sanitation waste is adopted at the earliest.
Untreated sanitary waste has been dumped recklessly in our rivers and lakes for years, resulting in rivers like Ganga and Yamuna facing severe pollution crisis.
Existing Situation in India:
Treatment capacity is available for only 37 per cent of the 62,000 million litres of sewage generated in urban India daily, thus creating a wide gap between sewage generated and treated.
Untreated sewage is dumped into rivers or lakes, thus polluting the environment even more.
The urban metros in India have a planned sewerage network with underground pipelines, pumping stations and treatment plants.
India’s 7,000 smaller urban towns do not have any existing sewerage system since the amount of financial expenditure, skilled operators and electro-mechanical maintenance required is unlikely to be implemented anytime soon. Nearly 62.5 per cent of wastewater in urban India receives partial or no treatment.
Recent studies shows the Broken Links:
Bad sanitation is India’s worst-kept secret, but recent data from Uttar Pradesh show that in spite of working in mission mode to expand sanitation, 87% of faecal sludge expelled from toilets in urban areas is untreated.
The study in U.P. conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment has now exposed broken links, of faecal sludge and septage being collected from household tanks and simply discharged into drains, open land and wetlands.
State support for improved housing and planned development has never been strong, and the National Urban Sanitation Policy of 2008 has not changed that significantly.
At the national scale, a United Nations report of 2015 estimates that 65,000 tonnes of untreated faeces is introduced into the environment in India annually.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan promised a major shift, but it has focussed more on the basic requirement of household and community toilets in rural and urban areas.
What Will be the Way the State and Central Governments must follow?
The problem of the waste not being contained, collected without manual labour, transported and treated safely is becoming graver.
It is now time for a new approach. This has to be decentralised and different from the strategy being used to clean the Ganga, for which the government announced an outlay of ₹20,000 crore in 2015.
That strategy relies on large sewage treatment plants for riverside cities and towns.
It is welcome that the CSE study is being followed up with a mapping exercise on the flow of faecal waste streams in individual cities.
The results for Varanasi, Allahabad and Aligarh in particular should be revealing, since the collection efficiency for sludge in these cities ranges from just 10% to 30%.
One immediate intervention needed is the creation of an inter-departmental task force to identify land to build small treatment systems for sludge, and to provide easily accessible solutions to houses that are currently discharging waste into open drains.
A large State such as Uttar Pradesh provides the opportunity to demonstrate commitment to policy.
Given the pace at which toilets are being constructed in urban India under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the introduction of policies and programmes in sludge management in timely and will help in the management of faecal sludge in urban India.
Viewed against the 2030 goal to achieve clean water and sanitation for all under the UN Sustainable Development Agenda, this depressing statistic shows how much work remains to be done.
The National Urban Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM) Policy is a welcome move on behalf of the Ministry of Urban Development. The policy will lay stress on the setting up of faecal sewage treatment plants in cities and urban local bodies, as well as address the restructuring of sewerage systems in urban India.
FSSM also takes care of a policy lacuna at the national level to address gaps in urban sanitation and lays down a clear vision and objectives to deal with faecal sludge and septage.
All aspects of the business of sanitation need reform if India is to meet Goal Number 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals with egalitarian policies. Decentralised sludge management systems would bring improvement in the environment and reduces the disease burden because of insanitary conditions.
Mapping of the flow of faecal waste streams in individual cities is required. Inter-departmental task forces are needed to identify land for building small treatment systems for sludge.
Manual scavengers continue to be employed in violation of the law to clean septic tanks in some places and urgent mechanisation is to be done.
The business of emptying faecal material using tanker trucks needs to be professionalised and de-stigmatised without the use of manual labour.
By implementing the above lines in Letter and Spirit, Success here can transform lives.