75 years of people’s power: Tamil Nadu’s Nattathi village shows the way to grey water management

Over 35% of the households had kitchen gardens in their backyards and they began to use grey water to irrigate the gardens

By Sushmita Sengupta, Swati Bhatia, Ravi K
Published: Friday 12 August 2022
Reusing treated grey water
The Integrated Sanitary Complex for Women (IWSC) premises where grey water is utilized to grow vegetables and fruits in Nattathi gram panchayat (Photo: Ravi Kumar, CSE) The Integrated Sanitary Complex for Women (IWSC) premises where grey water is utilized to grow vegetables and fruits in Nattathi gram panchayat (Photo: Ravi Kumar, CSE)

India 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.

Nattathi Gram Panchayat, in Srivaikuntam mandal of Thoothukkudi district in the state of Tamil Nadu, is spread over 1,268.97 hectare (3,135.69 acre). It has a population of 2,874 (967 households).

Nattathi gram panchayat manages and reuses grey water to grow vegetables

The eight habitations that comprise Nattathi Gram Panchayat suffered mismanagement of grey water.

Grey water from households flowed into open drains, causing water stagnation in the lower reaches of hamlets and giving rise to mosquito breeding and increase in vector-borne diseases.

The change

Panchayat officials took strong steps to address the problem of grey water flowing into the open. Communities were asked to manage the grey water in their own premises.

Over 35 per cent of the households had kitchen gardens in their backyards  and they began to use grey water to irrigate the gardens.

Water from kitchens and bathrooms was led into open kitchen gardens with ridges and furrows. Grey water flowed through the furrows where plants are placed.

Kitchen garden set up by an individual household in Nattathi gram panchayat (Photos: Ravi  Kumar, CSE)

The Gram Panchayat took the initiative to plan more. They mapped the village to include the location of households, layout of drains, existing toilets and bathrooms (at the individual and the community levels). The panchayat was supported by district and mandal officials and self-help and youth groups.

Solutions implemented included construction of individual and community soak pits, provision for kitchen gardens and implementation of horizontal soak pit at the end of the drainage channel (for households that lacked space for construction of individual soak pits).

Plan for management of grey water in Nattathi
Hamlet Total number of households Individual soak pit Kitchen garden Drainage leading to horizontal community soak pits
1 Kumarapuram 69 40 29 NA
2 Mullanvilai 134 80 NA 54
3 Pattandivilai 354 205 149 NA
4 Vaigunthapuram 6 6 NA NA
5 Chinna Nattathi 108 63 45 NA
6 Kanandivilai 84 47 37 NA
7 Kombukaranpotal 132 77 55 NA
8 Nattathi 80 47 33 NA
  Total 967 565 348 54
Source: District Rural Development Agency, Thoothukudi district, Tamil Nadu

The Gram Panchayat constructed—over and above individual soak pits, kitchen gardens and horizontal community soak pits—20 soak pits at places such as near public taps, primary schools and religious places. These soak pits are larger than the household soak pits.

In 2002–03, Nattathi village constructed an Integrated Women Sanitary Complex (IWSC) in Pattandivillai hamlet, catering to 15 households. Women and children use the IWSC for bathing and washing clothes.

Grey water generated from the complex is led into empty land, where a woman self-help group Magalir uses the water to grow vegetables, including brinjal, tomato, chilly, bottle gourd and spinach. Magalir maintains an account of the vegetables sold.

The successful implementation and functioning of the vegetable garden—which was also profitable—urged the district administration to recommend Nattathi Gram Panchayat for the Clean Village Award in 2007.

In Mullanvilai hamlet, which has a drainage system, the panchayat constructed a horizontal soak pit system at the end of the drain. Grey water from 54 households passes through a screen and is conveyed to this horizontal soak pit.

An inspection chamber is placed at the end of the drain to trap solid particles (such as plastics and covers). Grey water then flows to a horizontal filter bed where suspended particles and solids are collected.

Treated grey water is then diverted to land by ridges and furrows. Banana and coconut trees have been planted on the ridges.

The produce is harvested by the panchayat. Funds — amounting to Rs 1,33,000 — were allocated for construction of horizontal soak pit under MGNREGS.

Grey water from a horizontal soak pit is conveyed to a community garden where banana and coconut trees are grown in Nattathi gram panchayat. (Ravi Kumar, CSE)

Operation and maintenance

Households take care of their own soak pits. Solid waste is easily trapped in the inspection chamber of the horizontal soak pits. The soak pits require cleaning at least once in two weeks. As the soak pits are community-level systems, this is taken care of by the Gram Panchayats.

The garden at the Integrated Sanitary Complex for Women (IWSC) is maintained by a self-help group. Maintenance activity involves removing blockages in furrows in the garden (irrigated by treated grey water) and harvesting produce from the garden.

havamani, member of Magalir self-help group  People living in the Pattandivillai hamlet of Nattathi Gram Panchayat created a demand for the vegetables grown using grey water next to the Integrated Sanitary Complex for Women (IWSC). People say that the vegetables are fresh and healthy. The stagnation of grey water around our houses and streets caused various diseases and viral outbreaks. The residents of the hamlet say that they have set an example for their neighbourhood. Profits from selling the vegetables motivated us to work more efficiently and develop this garden.
—Thavamani, member of Magalir self-help group

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

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