Move beyond toilets towards inclusive sanitation, says CSE on eve of World Toilet Day

Organises workshop on safe sanitation in association with Department of Urban Development of the Uttar Pradesh government; releases new publications on faecal sludge and septage management 

Follow the proceedings of the workshop click here

Lucknow, November 17, 2023: As the world gets ready to mark World Toilet Day on November 19, New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is offering a pathway towards reimagining India’s sanitation future. Speaking at a workshop on safe sanitation organised here today, Depinder Singh Kapur, programme director, water, CSE said: “This year, the theme for the World Toilet Day is accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis. CSE, in partnership with the Uttar Pradesh government, come together for urban sanitation agenda forward and move beyond toilets – towards ensuring scaling up of sustainable and inclusive septage management in the state.” 

CSE organised today’s workshop in collaboration with the Uttar Pradesh government’s Department of Urban Development. Besides Kapur, the other speakers included Dr Nitin Bansal, IAS, director, Urban Local Bodies, UP and Dr P K Srivastava, additional mission director, AMRUT, UP. 

Participants included officials from 17 municipal corporations and 56 nagar palika parishads; state-level functionaries from various missions such as Swachh Bharat Mission, AMRUT, State Mission for Clean Ganga etc; and representatives from various related government departments. 

Among other publications, a Septage Management Performance Assessment report of 56 towns of Uttar Pradesh, was released on the occasion. 

One of the issues that the workshop focused on was that of ‘aspirational toilets’. Envisaged under India’s flagship programme, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) 2.0, aspirational toilet is all about “raising the standards and aspirations regarding toilet facilities, aiming for higher levels of cleanliness, hygiene, and user-friendliness”, according to CSE researchers. The workshop discussed some key aspects of these toilets, ranging from quality, design and technology integration, to their accessibility, inclusivity and sustainability. 

Safety of sanitation workers was another discussion point at the workshop. The Uttar Pradesh government is keen to work on the safety and well-being of its sanitation workers and Safai Mitras to ensure improved livelihood options for them. In line with the Government of India’s vision of ‘manhole to machine hole’, all urban local bodies (ULBs) in the state have set up ‘Emergency Response Sanitation Units’ (ERSU) for ensuring safety of sanitation workers. ULBs are trying to ensure that all manholes/machine holes are cleaned only through mechanical machines and human entry in machine hole is not permitted. 

Kapur, however, pointed out that “households living in narrow lanes in small and medium towns are facing a challenge in emptying their septic tanks due to difficulties of access -- there is, thus, a need to explore alternative options for mechanical emptying to ensure safety of sanitation workers.” 

The third key subject for deliberations at the workshop was reuse of bio-solids mined in treatment plants. Says Kapur: “India is in the midst of an urban sanitation revolution, where conventional systems of water-based centralised sewerage, designed to transport faecal material from homes through pipes to sewage treatment plants, are being augmented with non-sewered sanitation systems of faecal sludge treatment plants (FSTPs), that are designed to cater to towns and parts of cities where sewerage systems don’t exist.” 

The challenge is to ensure resource recovery from the faecal sludge or bio-solids in the treatment plants. CSE researchers point out that if this is not done, “the quantity of bio-solids will grow exponentially and will add to problems of contamination and management in the plants”. Working towards finding an answer to the challenge, CSE has collected and analysed sludge samples from 47 FSTPs and co-treatment STPs in seven states, including Uttar Pradesh. The results of the analysis were also discussed at the workshop. 

The CSE study results showed that FSTPs perform as effectively as conventional STPs, in terms of reducing BOD levels in treated wastewater, meeting the standards. CSE researchers say the challenge is in securing adequate sludge reaching the FSTPs, and effective operations and maintenance. Faecal coliform remains an issue of concern, despite UV treatment at the tertiary level. COD treatment standards are not being met by most FSTPs. However, this is an issue for most STPs in India. 

Speaking on the issue, Dr Srivastava said: “It is important to understand the technical aspects of bio-solids and reuse standards. This is especially critical for non-technical persons like executive officers and commissioners to enable them to advocate for and implement solutions for addressing second generation challenges of urban sanitation – the reuse of wastewater and bio-solids.” 

Addressing the gathering, Dr Nitin Bansal said: “From our target of making UP open defecation free, we have now moved towards higher goals – ranging from ensuring sustainability of sanitation infrastructure, addressing septage management, upgrading public toilets, and focusing on inclusion of women and marginalised communities on a priority basis. To do all this, the state government is working together with its partners, including CSE.” 

Throwing light on the collaboration between CSE and the state government, Kapur said: “Since 2015, CSE has been supporting the Department of Urban Development in Uttar Pradesh and the National Mission for Clean Ganga to address the used water and septage management challenges in UP. Together, we recognises World Toilet Day as an important occasion for initiating as well as culminating actions for accelerating safe sanitation initiatives -- not limiting to only initiatives around toilets but addressing the whole sanitation value chain, from containments to emptying and transportation to treatment and reuse.”  

Dr Srivastava commended the efforts made by CSE to support the state government in operationalising the FSTPs and in preparation of the bye-laws for urban local bodies. 

For more information on CSE’s work on water and wastewater, please connect with Sukanya Nair –, 8816818864.