Model sanitation project struggles without upkeep

The community toilet that is maintained by self-help groups in Devathanam East in Tiruchi.

The community toilet that is maintained by self-help groups in Devathanam East in Tiruchi.

A 16-year-old community-based sanitation project that was once seen as a model programme to reuse domestic waste water for crop irrigation is now in need of urgent maintenance work.

Launched on June 23, 2006 by Tiruchi City Corporation (TCC) in East Devadhanam, the project was initially meant to discourage open defecation on a small patch of land adjoining a disused community toilet that lacked underground drainage.

With separate facilities for men and women, the refurbished toilet complex envisaged the treatment and reuse of at least six cubic meters of water from the daily flow of nine cubic meters, through Decentralised Wastewater Treatment System (DEWATS) technology. NGO ExNoRa International, Chennai, was the implementing partner, with backing by German agency Bremen Overseas Research and Development Agency (BORDA).

The DEWATS facility was constructed at a cost of ₹8 lakh, and TCC became the first urban local body in Tamil Nadu to have this installation.

At present, 60 women members of a self-help group led by homemakers J. Nagavalli and Malarmani take care of the complex, including the farm that grows banana, pumpkin, gourd, ladies finger and spinach.

Even though the farm’s yield is abundant, the biogas plant that was supposed to be the flagship feature of the project has been dysfunctional for several years now.

“The water from the toilets drains into 21 collection tanks, and is then cleaned through the filtration system here before we route it into the irrigation channels of the garden. We are managing somehow with the water that flows out after filtration. But as you can see, the pipes and plasterwork have started chipping away, and the fixtures need to be overhauled,” Ms. Nagavalli told The Hindu .

A metal lid corroded by untreated borewell water has fallen into its own tank, while the filtration tank filled is with black sludge. “The toilets are maintained by the Corporation; we clean them whenever the regular conservancy staff do not come,” said Ms. Nagavalli.

The toilets (costing ₹2 per visit) are used by around 200 local residents from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, and the money collected is used for buying cleaning supplies and basic electrical repairs, she added.

Responding to a query, a senior Corporation official said the East Devadhanam toilet complex maintenance issue was under review. “We hope to attend to the matter soon,” the official added.

“Major operational maintenance has to be taken up by the authorities regarding the community-based sanitation project in East Devadhanam, but perhaps it has been delayed by the focus on pandemic prevention measures,” said V. Ganapathy, who was the District Advisor of ExNoRa at the time of the project’s inception.

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Printable version | May 18, 2022 1:47:38 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Tiruchirapalli/model-sanitation-project-struggles-without-upkeep/article38273511.ece