Only 26% of rural toilets use twin-leach pits, finds survey

Under the twin-pit system, two pits are dug with honeycombed walls and earthen floors which allow liquid to percolate into the surrounding soil   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

Over the last year, a government advertisement featuring film actors Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar has been preaching the benefits of the “do gadde” or twin-pit latrines, which would create valuable farm manure from human excreta. “Shauchalaya ka ashirvad,” proclaims Mr. Kumar in the advertisement produced by the Centre’s flagship sanitation scheme Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

This month, with the scheme claiming to be on the verge of completing toilet construction for all rural households, a government-commissioned survey shows that just over a quarter of rural toilets use this twin-pit system. The waste from the remainder of rural toilets could create a new sanitation nightmare — harmful to health and the environment, and even pushing a new generation into manual scavenging.

Under the twin-pit system, two pits are dug with honeycombed walls and earthen floors which allow liquid to percolate into the surrounding soil. When one pit is filled and closed off, waste flow is transferred to the second pit, allowing waste in the first pit to be converted into manure after a year or two. The Hindu’s analysis of raw data from the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey 2018-19, shows that just 26.6% of rural households use the recommended twin-pit system to dispose of excreta from their toilets. Septic tanks are the most popular option, with 28% of toilets connected to a septic tank with a soak pit and 6% to a tank without a soak pit.

The twin pit has been promoted by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation as well as the World Health Organisation as an in-situ sanitation system which claims to bypass thorny issues such as caste purity, as owners will be dealing with manure, not excreta.

With the government intensively promoting twin pits over the last two years, it is unsurprising that the highest ratio of twin pits are found in States which have only recently completed toilet construction.

Jharkhand, which is second on the list, with almost 58% of its toilets connected to twin pits, was declared open defecation free (ODF) only late last year. “Our focus was on quality construction and twin-pit technology,” said State sanitation secretary Aradhana Patnaik, explaining why a delayed ODF status had resulted in better system.

Uttar Pradesh, which tops the list with 64% of toilets with twin pits, had made the technology mandatory for anyone who wanted to avail the government’s ₹12,000 subsidy to build toilets.

Sludge management

For the more than 70% of toilets without twin pits, a faecal sludge management system is desperately needed. “How is the faecal sludge going to be emptied, transported and treated? That has to be an immediate priority,” said V.K. Madhavan, chief executive of Water Aid India, and a member of the expert group that supervised the NARSS survey. “It’s not enough to connect [the toilet] to a drain if it is simply emptied out into local land or ponds. It will lead to large-scale pollution of groundwater,” he warned.

A 2018 survey of 30 cities and towns in Uttar Pradesh by the Centre for Science and Environment found that 87% of toilet waste is dumped into water bodies and farm lands.

An on-site sanitation system such as a septic tank has to be emptied and cleaned out every two or three years. “Who will actually do the work, in our social context? The government is looking at technology and entrepreneurship solutions for these second order problems, but manpower is a key issue as well,” said Mr. Madhavan. The same Dalit communities which have traditionally been forced into manual scavenging are likely to end up in sanitation work to clean these tanks and any newly built rural sewerage systems.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2021 12:22:10 AM |

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