No more ‘pity’ in ‘pit emptying’!

03 May 2017

Frankly speaking, earlier I had reservations about pit emptying and always considered human shit as a potential environmental liability and after doing pit emptying myself; now my own reservations and inhibitions are the things of the past and I am assured that this one is a very potent solution for the many of the sanitation woes‘, said Temsutala Imsong after doing pit emptying, arranged as a part of “Shramdaan Conclave” in Raipur district. Temsutala Imsong, who hails from Nagaland, is known for her organization Sakaar Sewa Samiti work in the field on sanitation and community participation in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh and has done extraordinary and incredible work in the cleaning of ‘ghats’; is a conveyor of #Shramdaan India, a group working for Clean India in different parts of the country. ‘Shram‘ meaning ‘Labour’ and ‘Daan‘ meaning ‘Donate’, hence Shramdaani can be called as volunteers devoted to specific cause.

#ShramdaanIndia is a group of volunteers working for Clean India Mission, in different cities in India. Shrasmdaan Conclave was second such conclave organized to encourage community participation and cross learning between different groups. As a part of the conclave, pit emptying activity was planned to challenge the age old stigma and taboo associated with it which proved to be a huge success.

While smelling the manure, after doing pit emptying, Monika Tiwari a member of Samarprit Parivar, also a software engineer by profession, based in Vidisha, Madhya- Pradesh asked, ‘Is this really shit manure? It does not look like shit. It’s totally like soil or any other manure like Vermi-Compost‘. Many participating volunteers (which were from different organizations like Bhopal I-Clean, Green Minds, Paryavaran Dost, Change India Foundation, Bunch of fools and many more) were involved in pit emptying to carry forward the pit emptying momentum, generated after pit emptying done by Secretary, Ministry of Drinking Water and sanitation (MoDWS).

Many sanitation experts like Dean Spears, Diane Coffey and Sangita Vyas always suggested that pit emptying must become central to India’s efforts to eliminate open defecation. Study reveals that the rural population of India does not usually accept the low cost sanitation solution like leach pit as people think that bigger septic tanks are better as there will be no problem in emptying. People try to construct septic tanks as big as it is possible so that one will not have to empty the septic tank in lifetime which will atleast be more durable till the next generations to come. This leads to an increase in the construction cost of toilets. Though Government of India promotes low cost solutions like leach pit and provides an incentive of twelve thousand rupees (Two Hundred US dollar), people generally prefer septic tank which is actually, what Robert Chambers call it as a lose-lose-lose proposition, costly to build, nasty, expensive to empty, and used only partially. Masons are generally unaware, uninformed and ignorant about the usefulness of leach pit and also sometimes to generate more work for themselves and in turn more profit, knowingly promote septic tanks.

‘I actually thought that the silliest thing that I am doing is to do pit emptying because manual emptying process of manure is taken as abomination. In reality, ‘shit manure’ is just like a soil. Now I believe that a leach pit toilet is very easy to construct and simple to maintain, it’s very cost effective and in fact women Self Help Group (SHGs) are showing the way to earn from shit too‘, said by Haresh Shah from Making A difference Foundation placed in Mumbai. He is also doing a pioneering work in beautification of railway stations in sub urban areas of Mumbai.

Somatya from Shashi Foundation, Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh), a group working for making places clean and green was very enthusiastic about pit emptying as such a work was never done before. After participating and knowing about shit manure, she was convinced that pit emptying is the best way of fecal sludge management and that shit manure is far better than other chemical fertilizers and opinioned that this activity should be replicated on other parts of country.

Many Sarpanch’s (elected village representatives) along with other village people are promoting pit emptying activity and are spreading awareness about it. Sarpanch’s of Gram Panchayat Raikheda, Chhatoud, Chicholi, Gaitara, Sarfonga, Mohada and many more are actively involved in pit emptying and are challenging the age old beliefs of purity and caste biases!

Without a doubt, the pit emptying activity will challenge the age old caste based biases and manual scavenging. Manual scavenging in India is officially defined as ‘lifting and removal of human excreta manually’, at private homes and toilets maintained by municipal authorities. The practice consists of gathering human excreta from individual or community dry latrines with bare hands, brooms or metal scrapers into woven baskets or buckets. Manual scavenging is considered as one of the lowest, polluted and most degrading occupations. Though, according to the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, which made the employment of manual scavengers illegal, emptying human waste that has decomposed in a latrine pit is not considered as manual scavenging, and is therefore not illegal.

In Raipur district of Chhattisgarh, the methodology of Community-Led Total Sanitation is to make Gram Panchayat Open Defecation Free and now at different occasions, pit emptying activities are done to make people aware about the simplicity associated with pit emptying. Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) are selling ‘shit manure’ named as Sona Khad under Bihaan Bazzar. People belonging to different caste, creed and religion are ready to do pit emptying and are proudly posting it in on different social media platforms.

Pit emptying is a basic riddle is not very easy to solve. Combined with notions of purity, caste, myths of hygiene, incorrect perception, biases, prejudices, notions and wrong concepts, it will surely require sustained efforts by very stakeholders to make pit emptying as ‘new normal’. It is, therefore, rightly argued that pit emptying must be central to India’s effort to end open defecation.

Nileshkumar Kshirsagar (IAS) is the CEO Jila Panchayat Raipur, Chhattisgarh.