Digital Solutions for Sanitation Related Infrastructure

S.K Khanna
Clean India Campaign/Initiative launched in 2014 to end open defecation with a focused approach on strengthening sanitation-related infrastructure is set to change the public sanitation scenario in the country. Strengthening the basic sanitation-related facilities and infrastructure, say experts, appears to be the best–placed option to solve grassroot health problems faced by the people. The Clean India Initiative is being pursued through Conventional and Modern Digital Technology methodologies.

Conventional methodology
Under the conventional methodology, in the last five years, more than 11 crore (110 million) toilets have been constructed. Half a billion people have quit defecating in open spaces since 2014, when the program was started. A survey by a verification agency under World Bank supervision found that 90.4 percent of villages are now open defection free, over 93 percent of rural households have access to toilets, and 96.5 percent of them use them. WHO estimates suggest that thousands of lives may have been saved by the program.

It was indeed a sight to behold, watching the entire families – children, adults and senior members working enthusiastically to construct toilet facilities - free of charge. The program has generated an overwhelmingly response, not only from the rural community but also from social and electronic and print media in the urban areas, and even from Bollywood sensitizing the merits of sanitation related infrastructure through iconic films on the subject. Young brides in the rural areas have shown preference for grooms and families having good sanitary facilities.

Modern technology
Modern technology through well-coordinated digital push is playing a big role not only in the execution of this program, but also enabling coordination between human sensitivity and modern technology. A couple of progressive start-ups have decided to impart SBM to give a technological push. A Bangalore-based start-up has developed a concrete 3 D printer (a concrete additive manufacturing machine), which can build toilets in a matter of few hours at a lower construction cost and time. It is a digital controlled additive manufacturing method that can build architectural and structural components without any formwork, unlike the conventional concrete methods.

According to the company, there is great scope for application of this technology. It can provide a big boost to SBM in the construction of toilets and related facilities. The company is in touch with cement companies who are very keen to undertake this work and give a big push to SBM.

Thiruvanthapuram-based start-up Ercom Scientific Solutions has developed e-toilets as more cost-effective alternatives with a life span of 30 years and have already supplied over 3,000 units to 23 states in the country. The system is based on an indigenous technology that uses a prefabricated steel plate as its base for this unmanned and automated toilet. It needs just 35-sqft space for installation, with water and power consuming a minimal amount. The toilet washes its floor automatically after every five uses. The toilets can be monitored by the company’s team using IoT - the first such initiative for toilets in the country with a mobile app directing the users to the location of the nearest e-toilet, said Biny Baby, Director of the company. ”With 300 e-toilets, the Chennai Metro has installed the maximum and now IT giant TCS has awarded a contract to build 660 toilets in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, and there is an offer from Kuwait to build 100 e-toilets, he disclosed.

Toilets with reuse water facility
The Gates Foundation, at a textile mill in Coimbatore, has initiated a project aiming to reuse water to meet the needs of people who lack access to safe and effective sanitation. The project is designed to save water and reuse the same. The system works by using a sort of corkscrew conveyor belt to separate solid and liquid waste. The solids are then dried and burned using a combustion unit. Treated water, which is not drainable, can be safely reused for flushing.

Although these may be baby steps of the initial wave of digital solutions, the set the tone to promote and give a big digital push to the clean India Mission. Embedded in all these efforts is the resolve and commitment to make systems truly digital and could be a big leap forward in entering the mainstream .India is getting well equipped to share its best practices with other countries to improve global sanitation related infrastructure and standards.

One expects this Mission to bring about radical changes in sanitation related facilities across the country to help the country meet its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Long-term sanitation related interventions are called for and Clean India Campaign/Mission has to move beyond its existing goal and targets to become an Article of Faith guiding masses to the virtues of cleanliness and well-being.
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