Prime Minister Narendra Modi is against open defecation and to assert his stand on the issue, the Clean India Initiative was launched last year to eventually eliminate this scourge within four years. Under this initiative, 10 million toilets were proposed to be built. However, many homes and in some cases entire settlements are not even on a sewer grid making it very difficult to construct toilets without an outlet for the waste. Major cities are facing this dubious conundrum and less than half of Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad have plug-and-play toilets. Two sustainable solutions might offer a light at the end of this murky tunnel.
Scientists at DRDO (Defence Research Development Organisation) created toilets with sustainable human waste disposal systems for soldiers stationed at high altitude locations like Siachen and Ladakh. Psychrophile, a strain of bacteria was discovered on a scientific expedition in Antarctica in the 1990s and since these bacteria thrive in extreme temperatures, they were introduced into a chamber constructed below the water closet of these high altitude toilets. The self-sustaining bacteria feed upon the faeces and degrade the matter within 48 hours. This provides odour-free, water-sealed, off-grid toilets which are a sustainable alternative to septic tanks and pit latrines, at a one-time cost of Rs. 6000 for the bacteria or innoculum! According to The Better India, more than fifty developers have signed up to build these toilets in various parts of the country, and retrofit septic tanks and pit latrines sustainably.
M Dharma Rao, a retired Chief Engineer from Andhra Pradesh, developed this idea further into an affordable alternative. Instead of the bacteria, Rao introduced earthworms which would compost the faeces. Over six months, a bucket (10 litre capacity) of compost is generated, thus making this a maintenance-free toilet. Rao’s innovative and sustainable toilet costs less than Rs. 12,000 to build and is more accessible for the common man. Such sustainable, innovative toilets which are not dependent on sewer grids will help steer the common masses away from the unhygienic practice of open defecation.