A dirty secret: Concept of eco-san toilets

Manoj Misra | Updated on November 07, 2014 Published on November 07, 2014

Clean flows the Pachnada

eco-san toilet in Pachnada

Eco-san toilet at Pachnada

Heard of the eco-san toilet that fights river pollution?

Pachnada is about 100 km from Etawah in Uttar Pradesh. Meaning pach (five) and nada (rivers), it is the region at the confluence of the Yamuna with its tributaries — Chambal, Sindh, Kunwari and Pahuj. Here, the rejuvenated Yamuna and its rich biodiversity including the magar, ghariyal and sus (dolphin) prove that once a river’s flow is restored its biodiversity cannot be much behind.

Back in 2008, when we first chose village clusters around the Kaleswar temple at Pachnada as one of the 14 sites for the formation of Nadi Mitra Mandalis (Friends of the River groups) to promote river-friendly lifestyles, we were struck by the region’s many contrasts. It had a dreaded past (dacoits) and yet attracted thousands of devotees to the temple and riverbank for a ritual bath on holy days. The ravines were forbiddingly beautiful, with the crystal clear waters of the Chambal river in sharp contrast to the pollutant-laden Yamuna. The villages had small mud houses, yet the farms were alluringly green. In short, Pachnada exhibited some of the best and worst aspects of rural India.

When we tried to introduce the concept of eco-san toilets, we anticipated slow success in a region that had a high illiteracy rate and nearly 100 per cent open-defecation. But a pleasant surprise awaited us.

The eco-san toilet mimics nature and, in the process, safeguards the environment. Mammals, unlike reptiles and birds, have separate exits for urine and faecal matter. But we use a common toilet for both functions and end up generating sewage that pollutes and poisons our water bodies.

In an eco-san toilet, urine and wash-water drain into a separate destination, while the faecal matter is collected in another chamber that is kept dehydrated at all times. There is no need to flush and the urine and faecal matter is utilised as valuable urea and manure. In one stroke, human refuse is turned into a useful resource, water is saved and there is no sewage.

At our first workshop on eco-san toilets, we were mightily heartened when Munna Lal from Pachnada took the lead to not only construct the first such toilet in his village but also spread the word as our resource person. His roadside toilet is a hit with the villagers and other road users. He has developed a kitchen garden from the diverted urine and wash water.

As the nation embarks on the Swachh Bharat Mission to end open defecation, in Pachnada an illiterate but resourceful villager has lit a spark that will hopefully ignite his countrymen’s imagination.

India Rivers Week, 2014 will be held in Delhi at the end of November.

The writer is the Convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan

Published on November 07, 2014
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