New Delhi: From improving sanitation to curbing water, air and plastic pollution India’s swachh challenge is an enormous one. The sheer scale and scope of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan makes it one of the largest such cleanliness drives in the world. With 450 million defecating in the open and less than 40 percent toilet coverage for its enormous mass of people, India four years ago at the launch of the Abhiyan was facing a huge sanitation crisis. Today the sanitation coverage is up to 90.09 percent and over 4 lakh (4,17,173) villages have been declared open defecation free. But toilet construction is one part of the problem being addressed by Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Indiscriminate sewage disposal directly into water bodies, unscientific dumping of waste in landfills, growing plastic menace, all these real hurdles in realizing the dream of a clean and healthy India. The enormity of problem cannot be undermined but being overwhelmed is not an option. Integrated action plans, foolproof implementation remains critical. But what will also play an important role is technology and innovative solutions to address age old, deep rooted problems.
Fighting water pollution: From robotic fenboat to modular sewage treatment plant
According to a World Bank report, the dumping of sewage and waste water from rapidly growing cities have led to large sections of important rivers and lakes becoming unfit for use. While crores are being spent on clean-ups of massive rivers like Ganga and Yamuna, some experts feel instead of mammoth sewage treatment plants that are cost intensive and difficult to sustain, some indigenous innovations that tap the local wisdom might be more effective. Either ways, cleaning up India’s rivers and lakes needs to be undertaken on a war footing. But the first step has to be determining the extent of the problem.
A small venture with great promise in this direction comes from 12 engineering students from Kerala, who have developed a first of its kind robotic Fenboat technology that is capable of collecting around 60 samples of pollutants from a river in one minute. The remote-controlled and unmanned Fenboat can test the pollution level in rivers and can also identify the source of the pollution in the water body.
Assembled under a budget of Rs 2 lakh, the boat has a built-in GPS Device for location tracking and can track temperature change within the water body, types of water pollutant, the source of pollutants and how it is affecting the marine life. The boat is also equipped with a GSM module that can send SMSes to the authorities giving out a detailed report, and a camera for taking live photographs. The prototype of the technology has been tested on Poovanchina lake in Puthanathani and in Bharatapuzha River, Kerala and the innovation has already been shared with Central Pollution Control Board and the Government of India so that they can take this prototype into consideration for using across India.
When it comes to treating the polluted water, scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) in Tamil Nadu’s Kalpakkam have made a compact, modular sewage treatment plant, which they say, occupies six times less space and is four times cheaper than the conventional ones. And, the water that comes out from the sewage treatment plant is of a quality that it can be readily used for gardening and irrigation purposes.
Talking to NDTV about this plant, Dr YV Nanacharaiah, a scientist at BARC who worked on the plant said:
This technology relies on the growth of the micro-organisms and it offers better treatment and a reduction in space required for the plant and also reduces operational and capital costs. The treatment removes the Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), nitrogen and phosphorous contents.
Beat Plastic Pollution: From Being Used As Road Construction Material To Being A Fuel Source, Plastic Has Many Uses
Plastic has become a bane, a threat to the ecosystem. But this source of destruction can be put to some productive use. Thanks to Professor Rajagopalan Vasudevan – the ‘Plastic Man of India‘, there is now technology available to convert tonnes of plastic litter – bottles, single-use plastic bags and wrappers into materials that be can be used in road construction. Through this technology, one tonne of plastic can be used to make one kilometre of road.
The technology has been found to be effective and since 2015, the Indian Government has made it mandatory for all road developers in the country to use plastic waste, along with bituminous mixes, for road construction. The Indian Road Congress has also recognized the technology. And now, the urban areas with more than 500,000 people are now required to construct roads using waste plastic
So far, over one lakh kilometers of roads have been constructed using plastic waste in Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, among other states of India.
Apart from road construction, another viable use for plastic waste is to make fuel for both domestic and industrial purposes. Given India’s huge daily generation of over 15,000 tonnes of plastic, the prospects of conversion to fuel are abundant. Understating this, the Dehradun based Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP), a constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 2014, developed a unique process of converting plastic waste like polyethylene and polypropylene, both together account for 60 percent of plastic waste, into either gasoline or diesel.
The technology is capable of converting one kg of plastic to 750 ml of automotive grade gasoline. IIP’s technology also received thumbs up from the Indian Railways three years back in April 2015, when the Union Minister for Science and Technology Dr Harsh Vardhan announced that the Railways would set up plants to manufacture diesel from plastic, which would be used for mechanical traction with technology patented by scientists at the CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum (CSIR-IIP).
Innovations to tackle air pollution, using air pollution to make a usable product
Imagine if emissions from diesel generators or vehicles, which are the biggest culprits when it comes to polluting the air we breathe, can be captured and put to some use. That’s the idea behind a device like Kaalink that turns something as hazardous as air pollution from diesel generators and vehicles into something as useful as ink.
Developed by Graviky Labs, a start-up with Indian origins that sprang out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, Kaalink (a variant of the Hindi word for black) is a filter that grabs black carbon soot, including particulate matter between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter, from diesel generators, vehicles and industrial chimneys before it enters the environment. The captured pollutants are then recycled into safe, high-quality ink that can be used for screen printing or by artists for painting purposes.
According to Graviky Labs, 30 ml of ink (enough for one pen) that the filter captures is equal to air pollutants emitted by a car in 45 minutes.
One of the biggest causes of thick toxic smog every winter in North India is stubble burning. In the month of November, farmers typically harvest rice to sow wheat. And after the harvest, they often set the leftover plant debris (50-60 cm) on fire to clear fields for the next round of sowing, a practice known as stubble burning which has become an annual threat to air quality and human health.
To check on stubble burning, the government also inaugurated India’s first Cellulosic Alcohol Technology Demonstration Plant at Kashipur, Uttarakhand, which is capable of converting all types of agricultural residues like Bagasse, Rice Straw, Wheat Straw, Bamboo, Cotton Stalk, Corn Stover, Wood chips etc. to ethanol in less than 24 hours. Ethanol is a renewable fuel made from various plant materials collectively known as “biomass” and is widely used as biofuel across the globe. The Technology Demonstration plant, with a capacity to consume 10 tonnes of biomass per day, is based on an indigenous technology of converting lingo-cellulosic biomass to Ethanol.
High-tech toilets to address public sanitation
As the country moves into the final lap of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to achieve 100 percent sanitation coverage to put an end to open defecation, one of the biggest challenges is to ensure that people use the toilets being built under the campaign and sustain the cleanliness movement. One of the challenges is that people don’t use public or community toilets due to its unhygienic conditions. To ensure that people get to utilise clean public toilets, a Thiruvananthapuram-based social enterprise Eram Scientific offers a sustainable solution to this problem.
Their e-Toilets, the concept which is a winner of Swacchathon 1.0 Award in the Public Sanitation Space, is a sleek steel cubicle equipped with a multitude of gadgets to help it function as an automated, solar-powered and a self-cleaning toilet. So far, this award winning innovative toilet has been installed in over 2500 locations across 22 states in the country.
The e-Toilets are unmanned and have self-cleaning features like auto pre-flush and post-flush mechanisms. Solar panels power the toilet, there is remote monitoring of the toilet condition through web and mobile app and the eToilet locator app are some of the other unique features of this innovative toilet. Users can not only locate these toilets via a mobile app but can also use the same app to submit feedback.
How technology will help eradicate manual scavenging from India
According to government reports, around 39 deaths were recorded in 100 days because of manual scavenging in 2017. This is despite the Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act in 1993 that clearly states that the practice of Manual Scavenging is banned in India. According to the Supreme Court verdict in this regard, cleaning of toilets, drainage and septic tanks and clearing of human excreta from railway tracks or any other open space would come under ‘manual scavenging’. But, in reality people are still being deployed across India to perform these demeaning tasks.
In an effort to end manual scavenging, a group of engineers from Kerala have designed a spider-shaped robot that cleans manholes and sewers. Developed by GenRobotics with an aim to change manholes to roboholes, the robot has successfully completed a trial run in Thiruvananthapuram, unclogging five manholes filled with plastic, filth, medical waste and sediments. Costing Rs. 15-17 lakh, ‘Bandicoot’ was first introduced in Kerala in February 2018.
By the end of August, Bandicoot will be making its debut in Andhra Pradesh and by the end of 2018; the GenRobotics team plans to expand their operations across India.
Another technology that has been tried out to eradicate manual scavenging is Sewer Jetting Machines. The Telangana government in June 2017 introduced 70 Mini Sewer Jetting Machines in Hyderabad to make the process of cleaning the clogged sewage lines in narrow places easier, unlike the conventional machines that cannot reach the interior lanes and bylanes of residential colonies.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.