Gandhian Sanitation: Ariyanendal’s streets flooded regularly with grey water; here is how they got cleaned

The Tamil Nadu village used MGNREGA and Panchayat funds to build individual and community soak pits

By Sushmita Sengupta, Swati Bhatia, Ravi K
Published: Saturday 01 October 2022

On October 2, 2022, India marks the 153rd birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. As is well known, Gandhiji always laid emphasis on cleanliness and sanitation.

“Unless we rid ourselves of our dirty habits and have improved latrines, Swaraj can have no value for us,” he had stated. “Sanitation is more important than independence,” he had added on another occasion. Gandhiji focussed on cleanliness and sanitation whether in South Africa or in India.

Down To Earth pays homage to the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi regarding cleanliness by profiling villages and districts across India where people have worked to radically improve their lot through better solutions for drinking water and sanitation.

Ariyanendal village is located in Paramakudi taluk of Ramanathapuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu. The village implements grey water management through a mix of community and individual-household soak pits, making it a model village. With a population of 2,650 and 761 households, the village spreads over two hamlets, Ariyanendal and Vagaikulam.

Grey water from households ran into open drains and was disposed of into open areas or waterbodies, contaminating surface water, posing health risks and providing breeding grounds for disease-spreading vectors.

The village has narrow roads and streets, where grey water overflowed, inconveniencing pedestrians. Panchayat members and the public regularly complained about water stagnation and foul smell to the district management and asked them to take urgent action.

Top left: Village mapping of households and communities for grey-water management in Ariyanendal village

Top right: Small bore sewer pipe laid out for transporting grey water to community vertical and horizontal soak pit units in Ariyanendal village  

Bottom left: Soak pit contructed at a water-collection point near the gram panchayat premises in Ariyanendal village

Bottom right: Household connections to the grey-water system. Every household has a silt chamber before it is connected to the main sewer pipe in Ariyenandal village.

The change

The issue was taken up by the district administration with the support of village-level motivators (self-help groups). A transect walk was conducted to map the drains and identify the indiscriminate grey water disposal points in the village.

Special Gram Sabha meetings were organised in the village in which the Panchayat president, ward members and the village residents participated enthusiastically.

A village-level map was prepared wherein all 761 households were mapped with inputs from village residents. This helped find out whether a household was already managing their grey water.

If a household was not tackling their grey water, the mapping exercise helped the Panchayat gauge whether there was enough space on the household premises to construct a soak pit.

Around 392 households lacked the space to construct a soak pit, 285 households had space to construct individual soak pits and 83 households were already using grey water in their kitchen gardens.

Open drains along with their end points were mapped, and this was followed by the development of a village-level grey water management plan.

Finally, a need assessment was carried out to arrive at the actual number of individual and community soak pits. The community soak pits were designed according to the volume of grey water tackled and depth of groundwater.

In areas of shallow groundwater, horizontal soak pits were constructed. In other areas, depending on the volume of grey water generated, vertical soak pits were designed.

For example, wherever 40 households were connected to a soak pit, a proper solid-free sewer was laid out connecting the households to a vertical soak pit. The sewer line was laid out at a shallow depth, with a diameter of 75-100 mm.

But where three to six households needed grey water management, a simple PVC pipe was connected to a vertical soak pit. These two vertical soak pits had different design specifications.

View of a community soak pit for a cluster of households in Ariyanendal (Photo: Navneethan,   DRDA,  Ramanathapuram)

After identifying gaps and assessing needs, district officials with support of the Panchayat president, Panchayat union members and residents of the village undertook implementation work.

A total of 285 household soak pits, with 45 smaller soak pits catering to fewer household clusters (a variety of vertical soak pit) were built. Around 124 households were connected to a 1,250-metre-long sewer pipeline, with the end points connected to one horizontal and 12 vertical community soak pits. The effluent at the endpoint of the horizontal soak pits was used locally for irrigation.

Both vertical and horizontal soak pit systems are suitable for treatment of grey water generated from households with lack of space.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the 15th Finance Commission funds were mainly used for the construction of the soak pits. There were also instances where the Panchayat used its own funds for construction.

The narrow lanes in the village were laid with pavement blocks, transforming it. There is currently no wastewater stagnation. The streets and surroundings are clean and have no odour.

Operation and maintenance

Households take care of their own soak pits while the Panchayat takes care of maintenance of soak pits — using MGNREGS funds — at least once in two months.

Solid waste is easily trapped in the inspection chamber of vertical and horizontal soak pits, which require cleaning at least once a month. As they are community-level systems the Gram Panchayat takes care of this.

The Panchayat also maintains the sewer lines connecting vertical and horizontal community soak pits. Any interruption of the flow of grey water in the pipe has to be monitored closely and actioned by, for instance, opening the air release valves to restore flow in the pipe.

Key points

    • Individual soak pit: 1.20 m (length) x 1.20 m (width) x 1.80 m (depth)
    • Community soak pit (vertical) catering smaller number of households: 1.50 m (length) x 1.50 m (width) x 1.80 m (depth)
    • Community horizontal soak pit: 4.46 m (length) x 3.46 m (width) x 1.45 m (depth)
    • Community vertical soak pit for larger number of households: 4.46 m (diameter) x 2.25 m (depth)
    • Funds allocated for construction of horizontal soak pit: Rs 1,33,000
    • Funds allocated for construction of vertical soak pit (larger): Rs 1,27,000
    • Fund available for constructing an individual household soak pit: Rs 9,300
    • Fund available for constructing a community vertical soak pit (smaller): Rs 12,500

Rajenthiran S, vice-chairman, Paramakudi panchayat union    Streets and pathways in Ariyanendal are narrow and flooded with grey water from kitchen and bathrooms. Commuters and bike riders faced a problems on these roads, and there were instances of people falling off their motorbikes into water. With the support of district officials, we developed a comprehensive plan. Because of space constraints, construction of individual household soak pits was a limitation, so we planned for a small bore sewer system with the end points connected to the community soak pit. We are happy to see the transformation in our village, and will motivate people to maintain cleanliness here.

—Rajenthiran S, vice-chairman, Paramakudi panchayat union

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

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