Septage Management - Urban India's journey beyond ODF

June 01, 2017

A survey of 423 cities under different categories undertaken by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) in 2009 highlighted the need for urgent action interms of improving sanitation to make town and cities healthy and clean. The 2011 Census indicates that 81.4 percent households in urban India have a toilet facility. But only 40 percent households with a toilet facility are connected to a piped sewer network. Treatment of sewage is a significant challenge. Across India, 62,000 million litres a day (MLD) of sewage is generated. There are 816 sewage treatment plants installed in India (of which, 522 were operational, as of March 2015), with a treatment capacity of about 23,277 million litres per day (MLD). However, only about 18,883 MLD of sewage is treated (see Figure 1:Sewage treatment in India). Cities with more than 35 million population have 68 percent of total installed wastewater treatment capacity, but nearly 39 percent of these treatment plants do not adhere to standards for discharging into water bodies. Clearly, the sewerage systems are failing to keep up with the excreta challenge.

Further more, under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), an initiative of the Central government, a total of 18 crore toilets with containment systems will be up and ready by 2019.4 With the advent of SBM and allied sanitation-related reforms, the focus has been only on increasing the number of toilets, and little on treatment of the waste generated. By constructing so many toilets with on site systems, we are just holding back the problem, not resolving it. Thus, it is time we bring into focus discussions about the management of the waste from these toilets. This will ensure not just an open defecation-free (ODF) India, but pollution-free water bodies, cities and towns as well. Septage management in cities would also help achieve the aims of SDG-6, which includes improving water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping, and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing global recycling and safe end use by 2030.