- The toilet complex is the first of its kind, functioning on solar energy
- People can access the toilet using a smart card
- HFH India will build 9 more such toilets in Thane
A community toilet running on clean solar energy, with motion sensing LED lights, which requires users to swipe a smart card and enter the toilet premises. Sounds futuristic? Not anymore. This is a functioning reality in Maharashtra’s Sathewadi in Thane. Set up with the help of an NGO, a startup and the local municipal corporation, this project has successfully addressed two crucial issues of sanitation in an urban space, that of people using community toilets which save a lot of space in a city and reduces dependency on electrical energy.
So how did Sathewadi get its first solar powered toilet? Thane has been identified as a Smart City under the Smart Cities Mission, a flagship programme of the Union Government. The Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) aims to build 10 community toilets catering to large sections of the city’s population. Till this initiative, the existing public toilet complexes in Thane were in a dismal state. Stench, lack of lights and water were synonymous with public toilet complexes. The NGO Habitat for Humanity (HFH), India undertook the responsibility of building the toilets so that public sanitation in Thane was in sync with its status as a smart city.
The practice of open defecation is a national concern and we as a society must make it unacceptable. We need to provide better sanitation facilities to the people especially for the society’s bottom of the pyramid. At Habitat for Humanity India, we believe that access to housing and sanitation is a fundamental right of every individual. We are delighted to partner with the Thane Municipal Corporation to build sanitation complex for the local community in order to offer them better sanitation facilities, said Rajan Samuel, Managing Director, Habitat for Humanity India.
On searching for potential partners who would be interested in collaborating on the project, Habitat India came across Sunvest, an Indian startup which focuses on small scale solar powered rooftops in urban and semi-urban India. The startup, which began in 2016 has already been touted as one of the next big 100 companies in the energy sector to look out for. Together, Habitat India and Sunvest collaborated and began working towards revamping the first of the listed 10 toilets. The environmental friendly nature of solar energy, along with its status as an alternative source of energy was the reason which prompted the collaborators of this project to choose solar energy to power the toilets. The 1.5 kilowatt battery of a solar roof panel ensures power supply for 24 hours.
The toilet complex in Sathewadi has functional LED lights, a smart card swiping machine and CCTV cameras, all of which run on solar energy. This was a big challenge for us as we wanted to see if solar power can run an entire toilet complex continuously. The success of the pilot has paved the way for us in implementing similar models in other public toilet complexes across the city, said Sishir Garemella, Founder, Sunvest.
The sanitation complex was built in April 2017 and the residents of Sathewadi were gifted a truly modern sanitation complex in every sense. Over 500 individuals access the toilet complex daily. The complex has also been built to accommodate children and people with disablity. Of the 20 toilets inside the complex, 11 are for men, 5 for women and 2 each for children and people with disablity. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has repeatedly stressed on the importance of not just building toilets, but also ensuring that people use these.
Bringing in behavioural change is as important as the task of building toilets and Habitat India is trying to bring behavioural change among the residents of Thane. A community group titled the ‘4G Group’ visits families in Thane, mobilises them and raises awareness on the issues of hygiene, health and the necessity to participate in Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The group is also responsible for cleaning and maintaining the toilet. The revenue generated through the pay-and-use model of Rs. 15 per card is used by the 4G group to take care of operations and maintenance, thus ensuring sustainability of the project.
Members of nearly 200 families have been given smart cards which they can use to swipe every time they use the toilet. A system of social currency has been introduced by Habitat India, which enables the users to gain credit points every time they use the toilet. These credit points can be used to recharge mobile phones and buy sanitary napkins. This has successfully resulted in people from the nearby 200 families accessing the toilets regularly, and a decrease in the trend of urinating or defecating in the open.
The Swachh Bharat Mission needs support from NGOs and private corporations and the Sathewadi toilet complex is the exact model of that. Their efforts have also ensured behavioural change among the people in the community who are using the toilets in the complex regularly, said Sunil Tammdavar, Chief Sanitary Inspector, Thane Municipal Corporation.
The toilet complex is the first of the 10 similar, modern and energy efficient complexes Habitat India will build in collaboration with TMC by the end of this year. Habitat India has also built more than 300 individual household toilets for below poverty level families in Thane. Through CSR initiatives and similar energy efficiency partnerships, the NGO will address the issue of sanitation and how behavioural change can be brought about in interesting and engaging approaches. Thane, which was ranked 116 in the recently released Swachh Survekshan rankings, needs 500 community toilets to eradicate open defecation completely and Habitat India is confident of touching that number with due collaboration from the civic body and companies which are looking to bring in social change. Habitat India has also built nearly 5500 individual household toilets across Maharashtra and over 1,45,000 toilets across the country. Thane’s initiative has set a leading example for the state of Maharashtra, which plans to declare its urban areas open defecation free by October 2017.