The United Nation’s international day for toilets on November 19 is observed with a purpose to tackle the sanitation crisis across the globe. Billions of people do not have a toilet for preventing open defecation which results in contamination of water and soil. At this stage, people turn the environment into an open sewer. Here, we need toilets and sanitation systems that work in harmony with ecosystems and are economically cheap and comfortable.
In Kerala we have a model to tackle this crisis. But it requires some responsibility, certain modifications and necessary changes. Because, the novel idea of e-toilets, first of its kind in India launched in 2010, was almost a failure due to various reasons.
The project was side-lined by people due to some technical glitches, non-user-friendly, too much technicalities and too much exposure to public. Women shied away from using them complaining lack of privacy.
K. V. Baburaj, chairman of Health standing committee of the Kozhikode corporation, said the huge cost of maintenance of e-toilets made it a failure. However, the project cannot be tagged as a total failure because the units placed in Medical college area are widely used. But there were no users for the ones set up in a few places under the corporation. They were closed later.
Kerala being a state that has already achieved the sustainable development goal of sanitation, the implementation of e-toilets was an added feather to its cap on sanitation and availability of toilets.
The project implemented across Kerala under the health department of the state had received a wide acclaim at the time of its launching. Kozhikode was the first city in the country to set up an e-toilet. The project first materialized in Kozhikode after a series of agitations by women’s organisations demanding public toilets. 15 e-toilets were set up in the city. But many of its units planted under the corporation attracted dust rather than users.
The local firm Eram Scientific Solutions which manufactured the toilets has set up over 600 units across Kerala under various panchayats, municipalities, corporations and women development corporation. Under the funding of local bodies, the manufacturing company carries out its maintenance.
Upon the demands of local bodies and public, the R&D wing of the company remodified the units with various changes replacing automated doors with manual doors and a corridor in front of the toilet to hide the opening of the toilet. The complex technology was simplified to make it more user friendly. Where there is no proper sewage connection to dump the waste, toilets use bio digester system to convert human wastage into usable water and flown onto soil.
In 2017, the annual maintenance contract (AMC) with the company ended. After the ending of AMC, the company withdrew from the maintenance as they stopped getting money from the civic body. The company now demands Rs 60,000 for the maintenance of a single unit per year.
However, the corporation plans to restart the existing, locked and unused e-toilets for the public with the new fund allocated by Suchitwa Mission. The corporation also plans to put advertisements on the toilets to increase the income from it. With the new funds, the corporation is also going to build new toilets under its territory, this time not e-toilets, but ordinary ones due to high maintenance charges.
According to a representative of Eram Scientific Solutions, a toilet unit costs Rs 6.5 lakh and it requires Rs 5100 per month including tax for maintenance.
Though the project was not a complete success to achieve a higher sanitation standard in the state, the eco-friendly concept can be adapted to other areas, certainly with necessary changes.