A simple, low-cost technology for treating human waste – developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) – can aid in putting an end to open defecation and manual scavenging in the country.
The bio-digester technology of DRDO has the potential to give a thrust to the ambitious Clean India campaign, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A recent report “Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation, update 2014”, by WHO and UNICEF, estimates that about 597 million people in India resort to open defecation, the highest in the world. The target of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is to provide each household in India a toilet, both rural and urban, by 2019.
The numbers alone are of lesser significance than the final disposal of human waste involved. At present the DRDO’s technology is the best suited for Indian environment – both physical and social.
The technology, which uses bacteria to treat waste, was originally developed by the Defence Research Development Establishment (DRDE), Gwalior, to meet the sanitation requirements of soldiers serving in the high altitudes of Ladakh and Siachen.
The system is built to operate from minus 20 degrees to plus 50 degrees and is highly customisable as per the requirements and local conditions. The best feature is that it totally does away with manual scavenging and is low on maintenance and installation cost.
“This is the best system of decentralised waste treatment which is made to withstand any geo-climatic conditions of the country. It is also made for stationary or mobile use,” said Dr. Lokendra Singh, Director Life Sciences, DRDO, who was instrumental in the development of this technology.
One major achievement has been its installation in the Railways, which are referred to as the “largest open defecation system in the world”.
Dr. Lokendra Singh added: “Over 15,000 systems have been installed and improvements are being carried out jointly by the DRDO and Indian Railways after which it will be expanded.”
The Railways has also established its own R&D for improvement on certain design aspects of bio-digester and for regular maintenance.
In 2012, the then Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh made a push for installing 1,000 bio-digester toilets along the 90-km Jhamjhadi-Dhamra stretch in Odisha under a pilot project over the next decade. Apart from installation of a few toilets, the project did not make much progress.
The major drawback for the DRDO technology not becoming popular is lack of a marketing arm and major players in the sanitation business who can push the product nationwide. Being a green technology, it holds potential for providing sustainable and safe disposal of human waste, DRDO officials said.