75 years of people’s power: Odisha’s Denkanal, Balasore use urban-rural convergence to treat faecal sludge

This process is more economical and less cumbersome

By Sushmita Sengupta, Swati Bhatia
Published: Monday 15 August 2022
Rural self-help group (SHG) in Baldia Bandha village, Dhenkanal
Rural self-help group (SHG) in Baldia Bandha village, Dhenkanal. The SHG helps the sarpanch coordinate between the vehicle with the faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) call centre and households.  (Photo: Swati Bhatia, CSE) Rural self-help group (SHG) in Baldia Bandha village, Dhenkanal. The SHG helps the sarpanch coordinate between the vehicle with the faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) call centre and households. (Photo: Swati Bhatia, CSE)

Offsite faecal sludge managementIndia marks 75 years of her independence August 15, 2022. In these 75 years, it has become a fully-functional democracy.

A democracy is all about the power of the people. Down To Earth celebrates the power of the people of India by presenting a collection of 10 villages and districts across India where people have worked to radically improve their lot through better solutions for drinking water and sanitation.

Rural faecal sludge is best treated onsite. But what happens if treatment is only partially onsite? Faecal sludge is then carried offsite to treatment plants. But constructing treatment plants involves long complicated environmental clearance processes, costly infrastructure, strict monitoring protocols and trained human resources.

Do the states have enough money? Will the treatment plants be erected for each Gram Panchayat or clusters of Gram Panchayats? Do officials at the block, district and state levels have enough capacity to understand the treatment processes and layout monitoring protocols? Who will manage desludging vehicles and who will own them?

Odisha, in 2020, was the first state to formalise urban-rural convergence to treat rural faecal sludge onsite. Durg district of Chhattisgarh and Kalpetta Municipality in Kerala subsequently followed.

What does convergence mean? Simply that rural faecal sludge is brought from the periphery of urban treatment facilities (set up to treat faecal sludge of urban areas) to urban treatment plants for treatment. This process is more economical and less cumbersome.

Generally faecal sludge from a radius of 10-20 km is brought by vacuum trucks to the urban treatment systems, which can be a sewage treatment plant or faecal sludge treatment plant.

Wall paintings are used to generate awareness for sanitation in villages in Dhenkanal. (Photo: Swati Bhatia, CSE)

The first faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) in Odisha was built in 2018 jointly by Dhenkanal Municipality and the government of Odisha at Dhenkanal Municipality. The treatment plant was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Arghyam.

The FSTP (three units of 9 kilolitres per day each) has a total plant capacity of 27 kilolitres per day (KLD). It is managed by self-help groups (SHG) operating under Dhenkanal Municipality.

The plant initially received barely two to three truckloads per day, ie 6–9 KLD. It was thus not fully utilised as the design capacity of the plant was constructed on the basis of a population estimate for 2034. The second FSTP utilising the convergence pilot was at Balasore.

This 60-KLD FSTP has been built on Gram Panchayat land while the Dhenkanal FSTP was on land belonging to the urban local body. The Balasore FSTP was running half its capacity with sludge received from urban areas.

Rural Dhenkanal did not have proper solutions to empty and manage faecal sludge. Most of the rural areas had a single leach pit which resulted in partial treatment of faecal sludge.

Communities resorted to manual scavenging. Untreated faecal sludge was dumped in open fields and drains, leading to health hazards and public discomfort. Chaos and fights over this were common.

The change

Dhenkanal was the first district in the country to implement a solution to treat faecal sludge in rural areas economically. The Dhenkanal district administration in coordination with the Center for Policy Research (CPR) and UNICEF had discussions regarding utilisation of urban capacities to manage faecal sludge. Before the formalisation of urban-rural convergence, the faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) catered unofficially to faecal sludge in rural areas.

A survey by Odisha-based NGO I-Concept Initiatives, engaged by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and Center for Policy Research (CPR) acting as a knowledge partner for the state, included an assessment of solid and liquid waste management in the state.

Potential sludge generation, type of onsite sanitation systems, existing infrastructure and practices, assessment of whether the villagers were ready to pay user fees and how much can they pay towards the cost of desludging were surveyed.

Sampling was based on the tribal population in the district and divided into subgroups such as gender, social category, house type and income source. According to Phase II of Swachh Bharat Mission Guidelines (2020–25), the services were extended formally to rural areas within a radius of 10 km.

Around 17 Gram Panchayats — with villages located within a 10-km radius in Dhenkanal’s Sadar Block — were selected for the first phase. Sludge was collected, transported and treated from rural areas while ensuring participation of the community as well as block- and village-level administrations. The radius of operation has now been increased and the number of Gram Panchayats is now 49.

Project consultation and implementation partners for the urban-rural convergence were:

  • Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water Department
  • Housing and Urban Development Department
  • Dhenkanal District Administration
  • Dhenkanal Municipality

In Balasore, the user fees is directly collected from users and not routed through the panchayat. Balasore Municipality is also responsible for awareness generation activities for which it collects an extra Rs 50 included in the user charges towards desludging.

Area-level federations (ALFs) comprise self-help groups that operate under urban local bodies (ULBs). They are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the faecal sludge treatment plants (FSTPs) and sludge dredging vehicles.

In Dhenkanal and Balasore, the ALFs manage the dredging vehicles (owned by ULBs and private players). Under the urban-rural convergence model in Dhenkanal, an ALF is also supposed to extend its services to rural areas.

In Balasore, as ULBs also depend on private trucks, they track the trucks through Global Positioning Systems (GPS) so that there is no illegal dumping of the sludge. Private operators can charge different pricing (with receipt) according to the agreement with the household requiring the service.

Private operators, however, have to pay a part of the user fee — called tipping fee — to the municipality towards charges for using the faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) services.

Balasore Municipality is still working on signing an MOU with Gram Panchayats on similar lines as Dhenkanal Municipality. They have tagged 356 Gram Panchayats with the four FSTPS constructed for the ULBs. ALFs that manage Durg district in Chhattisgarh and Wayanad district in Kerala follow the same principle.

In early 2021, a 6-KLD faecal sludge treatment plant was constructed in Kumhari Nagar Palika in Durg district, Chhattisgarh. The technical advisor and funding agency WaterAid India planned for this FSTP to cater to faecal sludge from the nagar palika and seven Gram Panchayats — Dhaba, Kapsada, Khapri, Murra, Pandhdevri and Sankara — located within a radius of 10 km of the treatment plant and covering a population of roughly 66,500.

The toilets in the urban areas — mainly septic tanks and rural areas — have a mix of single pit toilets and septic tanks. In both urban and rural areas, there is a need to empty the containment systems and treat the sludge before further disposal or reuse.

In June 2021, a government order was issued from the District Magistrate’s office, saying that the FSTP in Kumhari Nagar Palika would take care of both urban and rural sludge. The desludging schedule — intervals of around two to three years — was also indicated in the order.

The Consortium for (DEWATS) Dissemination Society, a Bengaluru-based design consultancy working in the field of decentralised wastewater treatment and management, designed the treatment plant. The plant, costing Rs 58 lakh, has been operational since November 2021.

The operational cost is around Rs 1.5 lakh per annum. Both the nagar palika and the Gram Panchayats are currently using only one vacuum truck with a capacity of 3,000 litre, owned by the nagar palika. Around 15–20 years ago, this vacuum truck would carry sludge from the nagar palika and dump it in the open.

Until April 2021, 68 kilo litre of sludge — equivalent to 24 trips of the vacuum truck — had come to the treatment plant from both urban and rural areas in six months. The Kumhari Nagar Palika faecal sludge treatment plant can cater to larger volumes of sludge.

Since this is just a new treatment plant, desludging activities have not reached their peak. WaterAid will hand over the treatment plant officially to the nagar palika in 2022 — its operation and maintenance is currently under the nagar palika.

The septic tank in the district is not according to design specifications (3 m x 3 m x 2 m). Septic tanks designed according to the specifications do not fill until 10-15 years. When a toilet gets blocked, a demand is raised by the household to the Kumhari Nagar Palika Parishad office, which charges roughly Rs 3,000 for emptying toilets in rural areas. The desludging operator employed by the nagar palika gets the service request.

In 2019, a 10-KLD FSTP was constructed in Wayanad district in Kalpetta town. The FSTP was planned to treat the faecal sludge from the town area. PriMove Infrastructure Development Consultants Pvt. Ltd, a Pune-based consultancy firm, designed and implemented the treatment plant to cater to sludge from 14,000 households. UNICEF planned and funded the treatment plant.

The treatment plant was however not receiving a load of 10 KLD through the year from the municipal area (the town). In November 2021, Kalpetta Municipality issued a notice to the operator of the treatment plant saying that whenever the load coming to the FSTP was not enough, they could accept untreated sludge from nearby Gram Panchayats.

Sludge from Gram Panchayats was brought in just after the release of the notice. By February 2022, out of 53,800 litre of faecal sludge received, 51 per cent was coming from neighbouring Gram Panchayats. Only private vacuum trucks that are used both by the municipality and Gram Panchayat areas operate in this region. The trucks have a volume 5,000 litre and they charge up to Rs 3,500 per trip.

Desludging activity in Dhenkanal faecal sludge treatment plant (Photo: Swati Bhatia, CSE)

Bhanwar Singh Meena (IAS), Chief Executive Officer, MadikeriUrban local bodies in Madikeri are setting up sewage treatment plants, which will be ready by December 2022. This will cut down the need for standalone faecal sludge treatment plants (FSTPs) for Gram Panchayats. A standalone FSTP is an expensive option. Very little faecal sludge will be generated from villages as single pits are being converted to twin pits through an IEC drive conducted by the zila parishad.

—Bhanwar Singh Meena (IAS), Chief Executive Officer, Madikeri

Features of the Memorandum of Understanding between Dhenkanal Municipality and the Gram Panchayats

Dhenkanal Municipality
Gram Panchayats
Manages faecal sludge management services not limited to scheduling and cleaning septic tanks and pits of any household or institution in the identified areas within jurisdiction of the Gram Panchayat Undertake a survey to identify the number of households with access to different categories of toilets — ie septic tanks or twin pits — year of construction, whether in institutional or residential areas and whether they maintain a database at the Gram Panchayat level
Provides desludging services limited to faecal waste from onsite sanitation systems on demand placed by customers (institutional and residential) residing or operating from identified areas within jurisdiction of the Gram Panchayat. The area-level federations (ALFs) are formed under the municipality. These are cluster of self-help groups. There are two ALFs under the municipality. One manages vehicles and one the plant. Maintain desludging records of all waste generators under its purview and share with waste generators
Ensures health and safety of all sanitation workers engaged in desludging activities and provide necessary equipment and personal protective equipment Monitor desludging services as per established protocols and safety guidelines
Notifies fee structure for desludging services undertaken in the identified area. This should be done in consultation with the Gram Panchayat. Undertake awareness and IEC campaigns to publicize the information related to availability of faecal sludge management services
Meets the cost towards the delivery of desludging services through collection of user fees from households and institutional establishments located within the jurisdiction of the Gram Panchayat Pay the municipality the cost of delivery of services from the Central Finance Commission (CFC) grant through electronic transfer by the 10th of every subsequent month based on the invoice.
Raises the monthly invoice for delivery of desludging services The Gram Panchayat may recover the cost from households at the notified rates from the household using the services.
Extends services of 'lodging a request' platform such as the call centre, helpline or dashboard to manage the demand for desludging services of all residents or inhabitants (institutional and residential) residing or operating from identified areas Coordinate for extending the facilities of the lodging the request to all residents and/or inhabitants (institutional and residential) residing or operating from identified areas
Maintains a digital record of particulars of complaints registered and redressed Responsible for ensuring access to urban faecal sludge management facilities and services delivered by the municipality to the household under its jurisdiction
Source: Compiled by CSE

This is a part of Water Compendium published by the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi

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