Fair price: UP now uses a calculator to scientifically fix fee for transporting faecal sludge to treatment plants

The calculator’s flexibility allows for its use across India and even in countries that use trucks to handle faecal waste

By Subrata Chakraborty
Published: Wednesday 17 April 2024
A truck dumps human excreta in an empty field near the Delhi-Ghaziabad border (Photograph: Vikas Choudhary)

Ever since Uttar Pradesh released its latest guidelines on faecal sludge management on November 7, 2023, more than 20 cities have passed their own bylaws for managing faecal waste. Among the issues tackled by these bylaws, a critical aspect has been the establishment of fees for transporting faecal waste or human excreta in trucks.

This development is significant, especially against the backdrop of the Swachh Bharat Mission. As reported by the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti in March 2023, the initiative led to the construction of over 110 million individual toilets and an additional 0.2 million community toilets in the country, resulting in over 95 per cent of households now having access to toilets.

To effectively manage excreta waste, two primary approaches exist. While one strategy involves connecting toilets to sewage treatment plants through pipelines, the more practical solution, given the rapid urban expansion, entails the implementation of decentralised septic tanks for waste collection, followed by transportation to nearby faecal sludge treatment plants (FSTPs). As per the Uttar Pradesh Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Policy 2019, at least 86 per cent of the state’s urban population relies on on-site sanitation systems.

The challenge, though, is that the market for transporting faecal sludge is largely unregulated. Currently, the fee for this service is determined arbitrarily by truck operators, often leaving low-income households unable to afford it. While some urban local bodies have attempted to fix the fee, they too have done it arbitrarily, failing to address the underlying issues. The absence of a fair and consistent pricing structure has severe consequences, leading to improper waste disposal practices that include dumping in open fields or even local waterbodies, posing significant risks to public health through water contamination. A study conducted by the Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on selected cities in Uttar Pradesh in 2023, reveals a startling disparity in fees, ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 3,500 per trip.

The November 2023 Uttar Pradesh guidelines have addressed this challenge of establishing scientifically sound transportation fees by embracing a new tool: a faecal sludge desludging fee calculator developed by CSE. The calculator takes into account the key cost components of providing desludging service (see ‘Gaining popularity’). It has three columns titled cost component, default value (derived during the CSE study in Uttar Pradesh) and user input, to calculate the fee in different cities. The calculator factors in the equal monthly instalments operators will have to bear if they purchase vehicles on loan, and also has a cell to input government subsidies.

The guidelines, based on the calculator, show that for every trip of up to 10 km, operators can charge between Rs 700 (if the truck makes four or more trips a day) to Rs 2,200 (if it makes only one trip a day). For distances between 10-15 km, the fee varies between Rs 800 and Rs 2,300. In the next slab, for distances of 15 to 20 km, the recommended fee is Rs 900 to Rs 2,400. Finally, if the distance is more than 20 km, the fee should be between Rs 1,100 and Rs 2,600. The new fees have a profit margin of more than 50 per cent per trip.

Clear impact

In Sitapur, which has an FSTP almost 15 km outside the city, the fee has been revised from Rs 2,500 to Rs 1,000. Similar fee corrections have also taken place in Pilibhit and Moradabad, which earlier had a fee of up to Rs 3,000. In Pilibhit, the fee has now been revised to Rs 2,000, and in Moradabad, it stands at Rs 1,500. Meanwhile, cities like Raebareli have fixed a fee for the first time. Modinagar town has set differential desludging fees, Rs 750 for the poor households and Rs 1,500 for the non-poor households.

Though developed based on data from Uttar Pradesh, the calculator’s flexibility allows for its use across India and even in countries that use trucks to handle faecal waste. Fixing a fair transportation price is crucial for balancing viability for operators and affordability for users.

This was first published in the 16-30 April, 2024 print edition of Down To Earth

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