India Interior

A rainbow-tinged sanitation makeover

Preeti Mehra | Updated on July 10, 2020

Mithi Kinnar

How transgender and women’s groups are managing septage treatment plants in Odisha

Hum to udte vale panchi hain, par jab se yeh kaam liya hain bahut accha lag raha hain (We are like restless birds who fly from one place to another, but ever since we took up this work we feel good about it),” says Mithi Kinnar from Odisha in her broken Hindi. She is the President of transgender self-help group (SHG), Bahucharamata, which recently took over the operation of the Septage Treatment Plant (SeTP) in Cuttack.

She and around 10 others in the group no longer start their day seeking alms at street corners. Instead, by 9 am, they report to the plant, tending to its maintenance and converting waste to compost.

“The Municipal Corporation should trust us, we will keep the plant like we keep our home and make the corporation proud of us,” says Kinnar, as she recounts the journey of her transgender group towards a mainstream job.

How they got the break

It all started with Ranjulata Mahapatra, Project Coordinator of the Lutheran Service India Trust nudging the group to take to a mainstream vocation instead of living a hand-to-mouth existence. Convinced that they needed to secure their future, around 16 transgenders formed their own SHG. Now that they had a group identity, it also helped some of them in securing Aadhaar cards and ration cards.

And when the local administration was looking for someone to manage its SePT plant, a good Samaritan suggested their group, which the municipal corporation found was a good fit.

The self-help group team


A two-month training followed at the plant and the way the SHG responded to the capacity building was the turning point. “The enthusiasm shown by the transgender group is exemplary. This intervention is a crucial step towards social inclusion, which will also ensure social justice that will go a long way in the history of Cuttack,” says Ananya Das, the Commissioner of the Cuttack Municipal Corporation (CMC).

Though Kinnar feels the monthly budget for the operation and maintenance of the SePT is low and that an income between ₹8,000 and ₹10,000 is not enough for each member, she says that all of them like the work they do and are very involved in making the project work. They recently signed a one-year MoU with CMC and hope it is renewed for many years ahead.

Cuttack is not the only corporation that is acting out of the box. SePTs in Berhampur, Baripada and Sambalpur have also been handed over to women SHGs for operation and maintenance. The initiative and the MoUs signed here too are part of the Odisha Government’s effort at gender inclusivity. The women, after requisite training, have been playing a key role in keeping the local corporations in tune with ground realities and have come up with crucial community-based solutions to the sanitation question.

Anita Mohanty from Agrata SHG, who is secretary of the city-level federation at Berhampur, recalls how their groups were formed in 2016 and this first-time experience of working at the septage plant is working out well for the members. However, as the project is in its first flush, they are still thinking of how the women workers can streamline their timings. “Some of them work for eight to nine hours and that leaves them no time for household chores, so we are still mulling over whether we should break our work into two shifts — morning till afternoon and afternoon to night. That will give women more time and discipline them as well,” says Mohanty.

Babita Padhy


Babita Padhy, executive body member of Agrata’s city-level federation, says the women like the work and being in charge. They hope to start a nursery at the plant considering the amount of compost that is generated. The women have their own e-rickshaw and are now also collecting wet waste from 8,000 households in the vicinity.

“Women SHGs in Berhampur are playing a pivotal role across the sanitation value chain, covering each spectrum, including operation and maintenance of community toilets, demand generation for services, and their recent takeover of the operation and management of SeTPs is a watershed moment in this revolution for better sanitation,” acknowledges Chakravarti Singh, Commissioner, Berhampur Municipal Corporation.

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Published on July 10, 2020

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