IT WAS a generational leap forward for India last October when it declared itself Open Defecation Free (ODF). But sustaining the success is harder than achieving it. So, before the euphoria even settled, the Union government declared the second phase of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) called ODF Plus. This campaign is all about flushing villages with adequate budget to take up solid and liquid waste management, a gigantic task given that 100 million toilets have been constructed over the last five years. Without proper waste management, the ODF status would mean nothing in terms of containing contamination. There is also the threat of people slipping into their old habit of open defecation.
ODF Plus is ambitious. The government claims that a majority of toilets in rural India are “twin pit leach pit” type, built by arranging bricks in a honeycomb pattern. They are self-contained treatment plants and do not require any additional black water or faecal sludge management. However, by the government’s own admission in its report, “From ODF to ODF Plus Rural Sanitation Strategy 2019-2029”, the country still has thousands of toilets with single-pits or septic tanks that require desludging from time to time. These were either built during SBM-Gramin or under previous sanitation programmes. “To ensure sustainability in future, they may be retrofitted as appropriate,” says the report. Under this, all single-pit toilets have to be upgraded to twin-pit and soak pits have to be constructed for septic tanks. The guidelines also call for desludging septic tanks every three to five years and treat the faecal sludge generated at these off-site