Featured in The Times Of India

TRICHY: Constructing a toilet with proper specification and design is as equally important as having an individual toilet to prevent open defecation , a new guidebook launched by the Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme (TNUSSP) on how to build toilets states.

Deviation from the specification and design in constructing toilets and on site septage system will take a toll on environment and public health. TNUSSP, along with local bodies has planned to promote the guidebook, complying with pan India standards, to educate masons, construction workers, public and stakeholders.

Except for the limited vicinity that has proper underground drainage system (UGDS), majority households in the city rely on onsite sanitary system, mostly the septic tank and soak pit model. A consortium of organisations led by Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) involved in promoting urban sanitation said the design of septic tanks in many cases were compromised to meet the available space of work site, which, according to experts was a grievous mistake in maintaining environmental safety.

While small size septic tanks will make the toilets overflow with fecal matter frequently, large size of septic tanks may lead to ground pollution as the confinement would not fill quite easily.

“People are not giving adequate importance in selecting appropriate design and dimensions while constructing toilets. Through the guidebook, stakeholders can select suitable design in accordance with their need and capacity,” Niladri Chakraborti, senior specialist with TNUSSP said.

Besides the specification, even the materials needed and their quantity were prescribed in the guide available both in Tamil and English.

TNUSSP sources said that the guidebook would be promoted among public and stakeholders involved in construction of toilets through local bodies concerned in the coming days.

Explaining the sanitation process to TNM, Asma of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, that works closely with the TNUSSP says, “Once people flush a toilet, they don’t know what happens. We think that there is an underground sewerage system that takes it in and cleans it. But studies have consistently shown that it is not economically feasible for any city to have an underground sewerage system. The topography does not allow it. These systems require lot of maintenance. In the absence of these systems, people are expected to build septic tanks. But once you build one, it has desludged regularly, which means people need to come and clean it regularly. This has to be done mechanically with a truck and protective gear and not manually. It has to be taken to a treatment plant and either converted into reusable products for composting or it has to be made safe and released into the environment. This is the full cycle of sanitation.”

The group works with both the builders of septic tanks as well as sanitation workers in order to put in place measures for the proper building, usage and disposal of waste from these septic tanks.

They have developed a guide book of designs and estimates of toilet construction within the stipulated cost by the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) scheme.

According to them, the key objective of developing this guide book is to empower the beneficiaries – sanitation workers, masons, engineers – hired for the construction of these toilets to make an informed decision on the selection of a suitable design, depending upon their own financial capability as well as the topography of the location.

The first of the health camps for the workers was held at the Periyanaickenpalayam Town Panchayat office on Friday.

The medical camp involves a general health check-up with examination of height weight, blood pressure, cholesterol level, blood sugar test and ENT(ear, nose, throat) check up. The group further refers those found needing further treatment to the Karpagam Medical College Hospital, Coimbatore for free treatment, which includes hospitalisation as well as surgery.

The TNUSSP also hope to institutionalise regular health screening camps for the desludging operators and sanitary workers in the future by incorporating components like respiratory health, treatment for skin problems and vaccinations for children.