Waste

Bio-toilets in trains not effective; they are no better than septic tanks: IIT Madras

About 93,537 bio-digesters have been installed in trains so far at a cost of Rs 1,305 crore

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Friday 24 November 2017
Human waste collected in the bio-digesters does not undergo any kind of treatment. Credit: R K Srinivasan - CSE
Human waste collected in the bio-digesters does not undergo any kind of treatment. Credit: R K Srinivasan - CSE Human waste collected in the bio-digesters does not undergo any kind of treatment. Credit: R K Srinivasan - CSE

A new kind of toilet caught the fancy of Indian Railways couple of years back when it decided to install bio-digesters in mainline express and mail trains. About 93,537 bio-digesters, Rs 1,305 crore and few years later it has now come to pass that most of the new bio-toilets are ineffective, ill maintained and the water discharged is similar to raw sewage.

The technology, which was sold as a game-changer that would resolve the problem of undecomposed human waste on train toilets and tracks, does not seem to be working, according to the IIT-Madras (IIT-M) study. The study was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and it was recently submitted to the Centre.

The IIT-M study, which IndiaSpend has access to, concluded after a two-year-long study that these toilets are no better than a septic tank. The organic matter (human waste) collected in the bio-digesters does not undergo any kind of treatment. “Like in the septic tanks, these bio-digesters accumulate slush (human excreta mixed with water)," IIT professor Ligy Philip, who headed the latest study, was quoted saying.

READ: Roadblocks for bio-toilets in India

In a press release issued on December 2, 2016, the Ministry of Railways claimed that “anaerobic digestion process is applied for the digestion of human excreta in the bio-toilets”. In these bio-toilets, which are fitted below the coach floor underneath the lavatories, “the human waste is collected from toilet and is acted upon by a colony of anaerobic bacteria that convert human waste mainly into water and bio-gases (mainly Methane & Carbon Dioxide)”, the Ministry had claimed.

But that’s certainly not happening.

On August 29, the Railway Board wrote a letter to the General Managers of all the zones, asking them to give emergency attention to bio-toilets “to bring about visible and quantum improvement in cleanliness”.

Despite all this, additional 120,000 coaches are to be fitted with these bio-toilets by December 2018 at a cost of Rs 1,200 crore.

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  • Bio-toilets developed by DRDO have failed everywhere. Even the army, for whom it was developed, has repeatedly said they don't work. NGOs have water money buying them to find it doesn't treat water well. But the government will continue to turn a blind eye because it was developed and promoted by a Govt agency. Time to call a spade a spade, DRDO should accept that their product does not work and the sector can move ahead from this debacle with other products and technologies that are more robust and reliable. Waste no more time or money please.

    Posted by: Manas Rath | 7 months ago | Reply