Cen­tre of san­i­ta­tion

Safe waste dis­posal is a big challenge for the na­tional san­i­ta­tion over­drive. Pun­jab has been ex­per­i­ment­ing with cen­tralised sys­tems to tackle this. Has it worked? |


Have Pun­jab's cen­tralised waste man­age­ment sys­tems proved ef­fec­tive in safely dis­pos­ing off waste?

WHILE STATES in dif­fer­ent eco­log­i­cal re­gions of the coun­try are strug­gling to get suit­able de­signs for sys­tems to treat the solid and liq­uid wastes com­ing out of their toi­lets, Pun­jab has tried to tackle the prob­lem in a dif­fer­ent way. For over a decade, the state has been ex­per­i­ment­ing with both cen­tralised and de­cen­tralised waste man­age­ment sys­tems to make ac­cess to san­i­ta­tion ten­able and safe. While the state’s 86 per cent house­holds have ac­cess to toi­lets now, it in­evitably emerges as the first port of call to check whether the challenge of safe waste dis­posal has been tack­led ef­fec­tively as en­vi­sioned.

The state gov­ern­ment’s Department of Wa­ter Sup­ply and San­i­ta­tion (dwss) has been col­lab­o­rat­ing with the World Bank (WB) to set up a range of waste man­age­ment sys­tems to ad­e­quately meet the de­mand in face of fast in­creas­ing num­ber of toi­lets. The cen­tralised sys­tems de­vel­oped un­der this col­lab­o­ra­tion in­clude con­ven­tional sewage treat­ment plants (stp), Waste Sta­bil­i­sa­tion Ponds (wsp) and Duck­weed Ponds. The sewer con­nec­tion to these treat­ment sys­tems are con­ven­tional sewer and solid free sewer (also called small bore sewer) car­ry­ing the liq­uid waste un­der grav­ity. A dis­trict is al­lot­ted one of the above sys­tems de­pend­ing on lo­cal ecol­ogy and needs. For ex­am­ple in Muk­t­sar dis­trict that has wa­ter log­ging prob­lem, wsps were

sug­gested. “This is be­cause enough land was avail­able and it is a low cost-low en­ergy sys­tem,” says Am­rit Deep Singh, sub di­vi­sional of­fi­cer, Pub­lic Health and En­gi­neer­ing Department, Muk­t­sar. While dis­tricts like Lud­hi­ana and Am­rit­sar were sug­gested to set up stps be­cause the so­cio-eco­nomic con­di­tion was favourable.

In 2006, the state got US $154 mil­lion from WB. The project en­sured wa­ter sup­ply sys­tem and san­i­ta­tion sys­tems in­clud­ing com­mu­nity-based small bore sew­er­age sys­tem. In 2015, WB again gave US $248 mil­lion for sim­i­lar work in the state. Pun­jab has al­ready de­clared 50 per cent of its dis­tricts open defecation free (odf).

Pun­jab vari­ance

“We had con­structed a toi­let and made a con­nec­tion with a sew­er­age net­work long back in 2007,” says Rut­preet Kaur, a 35-year-old res­i­dent of Balade Vala vil­lage in Bhatinda. All the 60 house­holds in the vil­lage had toi­lets. But dis­posal of waste was a big is­sue that the new project fixed. The vil­lage got a cen­tralised sys­tem of waste­water treat­ment. The sewer car­ried waste­water to a com­mon pump­ing sta­tion from where it goes di­rectly to a wsp. This pond, de­vel­oped on a com­mon vil­lage land, is over one hectare and is di­vided into six parts for com­plete treat­ment of waste­water. In the dis­trict six other pan­chay­ats also adopted the same tech­nol­ogy af­ter a fea­si­bil­ity study and avail­abil­ity of com­mon land. “The first pond of wsp re­duces the or­ganic con­tent and the over­flow moves to the next pond. The process con­tin­ues un­til the wa­ter reaches the last com­part­ment where it is dis­in­fected and be­comes use­ful for agri­cul­ture,” ex­plains Aman­deep Brar, sub di­vi­sional of­fi­cer, Pub­lic Health and En­gi­neer­ing Department, Bhatinda.

But from here starts the most chal­leng­ing phase of the ex­per­i­ment: how to sus­tain it. “In­stalling the plant costs 2 crore. To be­gin with, a con­trac­tor looked af­ter the op­er­a­tion and main­te­nance as a part of com­mit­ment to the gov­ern­ment till 2015. But after­wards, when the pan­chayat took over as per the plan, it fal­tered,” says Brar. The vil­lage pan­chayat asked the res­i­dents to pay 60/month as the cost of main­tain­ing the sys­tem. But grad­u­ally pay­ment stopped and now the sys­tem is not func­tional.

This is where the Pun­jab ex­per­i­ment is at the doorstep of the nag­ging prob­lem that the Swachh Bharat Mis­sion (sbm) has been en­dur­ing with­out much suc­cess. Prime Min­is­ter Narendra Modi launched sbm on Oc­to­ber 2, 2014 with one of the main ob­jec­tives be­ing that of mak­ing the coun­try odf in five years. The new pro­gramme pri­ori­tised us­age of toi­lets and solid and liq­uid waste man­age­ment which had taken a back seat in pre­vi­ous san­i­ta­tion pro­grammes.

Of­fi­cials in Pun­jab ad­mit the ex­per­i­ment though de­sir­able has its lim­i­ta­tions.

Ra­jin­der Singh, ju­nior en­gi­neer (san­i­ta­tion), dwss, Bhatinda, says that the waste­water treat­ment sys­tem was im­posed in a “top-down” man­ner with­out the in­volve­ment of the com­mu­nity. Hence peo­ple are not aware of the fa­cil­i­ties of the sys­tem and also there is a lack of own­er­ship.

Res­i­dents say the hes­i­ta­tion to pay for the sys­tem started when they didn’t re­ceive the ser­vices as promised by the pan­chayat. Cha­ran­jeet Das, a 65-year-old res­i­dent from Balade Vala, has two toi­lets in his house, one con­nected to the cen­tralised

sys­tem and an­other, a twin-pit toi­let built un­der sbm. He re­calls, “We used to pay 60 per month, as de­cided by the vil­lage pan­chayat. But the ser­vices were not up to the mark. The sew­er­age line would of­ten choke and wa­ter would flow back into our toi­let. Even­tu­ally, we stopped pay­ing money to the pan­chayat.” Das, rather, finds the de­cen­tralised twin-pit sys­tem more ef­fec­tive. He says, “In 2014, as our fam­ily ex­panded, we had to con­struct a twin-pit toi­let along with a bath­room. The sys­tem worked so well that we never faced any is­sue re­lated to bad smell or choking. In Au­gust this year, we emp­tied one pit. It had fine com­post that we used as ma­nure.”

Mul­ti­ple chal­lenges

“In many wa­ter­logged ar­eas of Muk­t­sar, a mod­i­fied sep­tic tank with anaer­o­bic cham­ber is in­stalled and adopted by the res­i­dents un­der sbm. The waste­water from the toi­lets enter the first cham­ber of sep­tic tank where sed­i­men­ta­tion takes place and then the over­flow moves to the cham­ber hav­ing anaer­o­bic fil­ter where or­ganic ma­te­rial is de­graded,” says Su­naina Kohli, Zila Swachh Bharat Pr­erak, vol­un­teer work­ing for sbm. “This pro­vides on-site and eco­nom­i­cal op­tion that re­quires min­i­mal main­te­nance,” adds Kohli.

Ra­jin­der points out at an­other prob­lem that also seems to be a challenge for Pun­jab’s long fight to make san­i­ta­tion safe. He says that the waste man­age­ment sys­tem has failed as the num­ber of house­holds in the above vil­lage has in­creased by more than seven folds. Ra­jin­der adds, “The block­ing of the sys­tems hap­pened as plas­tics, solids from cat­tle shed and kitchen waste en­tered the bore sew­ers through the in­ter­cept­ing cham­bers which con­nect the house­holds to the cen­tralised sys­tems.

The small bore sew­ers are used here for con­veyance of the waste­water from the house­holds to treat­ment sys­tems, which are thin and have a di­am­e­ter of max­i­mum up to 150 mm.” Anil Ku­mar, as­sis­tant en­gi­neer, dwss, Muk­t­sar sug­gests a way out. He says that each vil­lage has at least one tra­di­tional pond which can be re­vived to act as wsp for new house­holds, hence this sys­tem can be ef­fec­tive even if the num­ber of house­holds in­crease.

The challenge of main­tain­ing and run­ning a seem­ingly ex­pen­sive sys­tem haunts most of the pan­chay­ats. The of­fi­cials of dwss at Muk­t­sar are skep­ti­cal whether the new wsp sys­tems com­ing up in their blocks un­der the WB scheme will be sus­tain­able. Bhagchari vil­lage pan­chayat is one of the four pan­chay­ats in Muk­t­sar, where the WB and dwss have worked to­gether.

In 2012, a wsp was set up spend­ing 6.5 crore that pro­vides small bore sewer con­nec­tions to house­holds of this pan­chayat. Kul­jeet Singh, su­per­vi­sor of wsp at Bhagchari, says, “The pan­chayat al­ready has 100 per cent house­hold toi­let cov­er­age and the wsp is func­tion­ing well with 40 per cent of the house­holds con­nected to the sew­er­age. The sys­tem is right now un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a con­trac­tor as per the terms of com­mit­ment (till 2019). The monthly main­te­nance cost is around 12,000, which the con­trac­tor is bear­ing now. It is a well­re­ceived fact that the role of the pan­chayat is very im­por­tant to main­tain such sys­tem. We can­not as­cer­tain its work­ing con­di­tion af­ter 2019.”

Ku­mar says, “wsp of Badal vil­lage pan­chayat is a stand­alone ex­am­ple, as the con­tin­u­ous sup­port and main­te­nance has been en­sured to sus­tain the cen­tralised waste­water treat­ment.” In other places, this model has failed, per­haps due to lack of inte-rest and com­mit­ment among lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion and com­mu­ni­ties. The ques­tion of proper op­er­a­tion and main­te­nance is in­sep­a­ra­ble from the func­tion­al­ity and eco­nom­ics. As no di­rect ben­e­fit is seen by the com­mu­ni­ties, they dis­agree to pay the cost.

The liq­uid-waste man­age­ment in the ru­ral ar­eas is ba­si­cally de­cen­tralised in the form of sin­gle pit, twin pits, soak pits and sep­tic tanks. Pun­jab thought dif­fer­ently and opted for cen­tralised sys­tems.

But op­er­a­tion and main­te­nance of the sys­tem has proved to be a bur­den on the com­mu­ni­ties and the only rea­son for fail­ure in most cases. To get the best of the cen­tralised sys­tem, the state should im­ple­ment it in a bot­tom up man­ner by in­volv­ing the ben­e­fi­cia­ries in ev­ery step.

The ques­tion of proper op­er­a­tion and main­te­nance is in­sep­a­ra­ble from the func­tion­al­ity and eco­nom­ics. As no di­rect ben­e­fit is seen by the com­mu­ni­ties, they dis­agree to pay the min­i­mum op­er­a­tional cost

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: VIKAS CHOUD­HARY / CSE A work­ing Waste Sta­bal­i­sa­tion Pond in Badal Vil­lage, Muk­t­sar. It is treat­ing sew­er­age com­ing out of two vil­lage pan­chay­ats

A Waste Sta­bal­i­sa­tion Pond aban­doned due to lack of main­te­nance at Balade Vala vil­lage pan­chayat

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