Six years into the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, much has been achieved. Thousands of sanitary toilets have been constructed across the country, including in urban slums — an area that was in dire need of access to safe sanitation.
But are the toilets being used? If not, why not? Anand Jagtap, Ex-Officer on Special Duty, Slum Sanitation Program, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, writes about the lacunae in the program, how maintenance is a major issue, and why community participation is essential to maintenance. He also explains how Gandhvedh, an odour-monitoring device connected to toilet users via apps and the cloud, can help all stakeholders work towards a common goal.
In spite of the many successes of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, there are a few criticisms of its achievements, one being that its entire focus was on constructing and installing individual and community toilets. Expected output such as use of these sanitation facilities at ground level and their sustainability is not measured. Behavioural change among the end users of these facilities is also not considered while evaluating its benefits.
In urban areas in particular, a large number of people live in informal settlements and due to legal and space constraints, construction of individual, attached toilets is not possible. Hence, a large number of slum dwellers are forced to use community toilets or shared sanitation facilities. Many of these toilets have been constructed, but they are not in usable condition; dirty and stinking, they are poorly maintained by the agencies responsible for construction, and by the users themselves. Thus, in spite of heavy investment in construction of sanitation facilities, people are forced to use open and public spaces for defecation.
The situation in Mumbai
According to the 2011 census, the slum population of Mumbai is 41%, i.e., over 59 lakh people stay in slums. Due to slum conditions, a large section of the population is dependent on community toilets, which are constructed by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) or Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA).
Local bodies face several problems in day-to-day cleanliness of these toilets. There is a lack of trained adequate manpower for supervision and monitoring, resulting in poor quality of services. Due to social taboo, the task of keeping toilets clean is relegated to a particular community, and the toilet user feels that it is below his dignity to clean the toilet.
Due to this negligence, the life of toilet facilities also reduces. Repair and maintenance also get neglected due to the toilet’s unclean condition. Health issues due to odour The bacteria present in unsanitary toilets release gases like ammonia, hydrogen sulphide and methane, which are responsible for the odour that emanates from toilets. The health issues arising out of prolonged exposure to such an environment are hazardous to say the least. 18% of all deaths are due to respiratory illness; pollutants are the number one cause for the same. Irritation of eyes and nose, sore throat, shortness of breath, asthma and other lung diseases are some of the other effects. Children and elderly alike experience anxiety, dizziness, loss of concentration, infections, inflammations and risks to the central nervous system. To avoid using smelly toilets, women do not drink their daily requirement of water, or hold their bladder for up to 13 hours, resulting in increased chance of urinary tract infections, prolapsed bladder, involuntary urine release etc. Communities – i.e, toilet users – need to be closely involved in cleaning and day-to-day operations and maintenance of sanitation infrastructure, for it to be used as planned.
Since 1997, MCGM has started a community-driven participatory program in which the responsibility of operation and maintenance of its community toilet blocks is handed over to the users in the form of registered groups called Community Based Organisations (CBOs). However, MHADA, which has the major share of construction of community toilets, does not engage the community in any way, nor does it have any mechanism for keeping the community toilets clean after construction. MCGM toilets are taken care of by agencies such as CBOs and NGOs, for both pay-and-use (public) toilets and community toilets. A community partnership model – where few members of the community take the responsibility to maintain the toilets – is in place. However, these toilets still have issues related to cleanliness and odour. While the caretakers engaged for the cleaning of community and public toilets try their best to provide services to the user by taking various measures at their facility, they still lack in the knowledge-based application of remedial measures. The very first step for any correction is understanding the intensity of the issue, followed by corrective action to circumvent the problem.
The Solution – Gandhvedh
Viliso Technology is a techdriven company in the field of IoT, which has provided a solution to measure the odour intensity in toilets, and a platform to receive instant feedback on their sanitary condition. This involves an electronic device known as GandhvedhTM and an accompanying mobile and web application. Gandhvedh is an IoTbased electronic device that monitors odour, Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC), Temperature and Humidity in the toilet where it is fitted for monitoring. The device requires internet connection, transmitting collected data to the apps through a cloud server. Gandhvedh detects unpleasant odour emanating from toilets predominantly due to human urine and faeces, the reason why people usually avoid using toilets. Using the app, users are able to identify toilets that harbour an unpleasant smell. Through its unique dashboard, chart views and mobile alerts, Gandhvedh also provides information to community based organizations, NGOs and Government about the condition of toilets they are maintaining. The app also allows the users to view historical data on a daily, weekly and monthly basis in graphical display format. Instant alerts are generated on the mobile app, if any of the parameters crosses the given threshold values. In this case, timely alerts to both CBO and caretakers prompts appropriate action by the caretaker to keep the toilets clean and odour-free. Such an alert-based system helps them to resolve the issue in time, and reduce their dependence on direct feedback from users. The app user has the option to set the alert level values.
Impact of Gandhvedh
During the pandemic, Gandhvedh was installed in 11 community toilet blocks at 14 spots on a pilot basis with the active participation of CBOs, which are active members of a federation called Swachhata Savardhan Sanstha Mahasangh (SSSmS). The CBOs were able to get regular feedback on their personal mobiles about the status of toilet cleanliness. The technology-driven approach has helped in bringing objectivity to odour monitoring, and has removed any scope for subjectivity. It has helped the caretaker person know the status of his work in terms of its end result. Odour-related data was made available to the caretaker, CBO-in- charge, the federation, and importantly, brought about transparency in cleanliness status. The most important impact is quick action by the caretaker in performing the cleaning. Some citizens are aware about the Swachhata app, and them use it. The toilet locator gives information about toilets; however, they only show only their presence. The citizen will not know if the toilet is clean or odour-free. This revelation would happen only when the citizen reaches the toilet. Gandhvedh’s toilet tracker feature has helped people know not only where the toilet is, but also about its cleanliness status.
A few specific findings
• The odour levels were high in the morning from 5-9am and in the evening from 6-9pm.
• A sporadic spike in TVOC levels was observed at certain times.
• Toilet owners responded to such insights by installing an exhaust fan
• Immediate action was taken by the caretaker for cleaning of the toilet when the mobile app issued an alert. The caretaker remained on his toes to ensure sanitation.
• The CBO was satisfied with receiving data on a real-time basis — data that was accurate and reliable.