Jagriti Yatra 2017: Travellers envision better solutions for sanitation services, waste management

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of daily updates from on board the Jagriti Yatra — a 15-day train journey that traverses 8,000 kilometres across the country. This national train journey, one of the longest of its kind in the world, begins and ends in Mumbai. This cross-country jaunt will see youths from across India interact with a variety of business entrepreneurs and experts in Kanyakumari, Bengaluru, Nalanda, New Delhi and Ahmedabad among its many stops. Firstpost will bring you day-to-day coverage of this marathon journey.

In 1997, India was turning 50 and the millennium stood at the next bend. It was then that Shashank Mani gathered 200 others to embark on a quest to get to know India better, and ventured out on what he named the Azad Bharat Rail Yatra. Mani, now executive director, consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Mumbai, serves as the chairman of Jagriti, a non-profit organisation which conducts the Jagriti Yatra or a rail journey of 500 dreamers and doers across Tier II and Tier III districts in India. These districts combine to form what is called Middle India, where, as the team at Jagriti Yatra puts it, "More than 200 million youth are literate, have a roof over its heads and food on their plates but are without a sense of purpose. The next two decades provide an opportunity to bring a sixth of humanity into the zone of prosperity. The $10 trillion economy, substantial improvement in our Human Development Index is in our grasp. And we have one shot at this, because after 20 years, like China, our working age population will peak at a billion and then start declining."

A picture of a village in Ganjam that runs on biogas plants. Only 12,000 to 15,000 such plants are left in the state because the practise of cow rearing has been reduced and hence cow dung isn’t as readily available

A picture of a village in Ganjam that runs on biogas plants. Only 12,000 to 15,000 such plants are left in the state because the practice of cow rearing has been reduced and hence cow dung isn’t as readily available

One of the verticals the 500 yatris explored was sanitation and waste management, the use of alternate energy and tighter implementation of national policies on the ground. Shrishail Birajdar, one of the yatris, has worked with an NGO called SWaCH in Pune which has integrated 2700 waste pickers and has set up a bio-waste plant at Uruli Devacha close to the city. He now works in the Social Justice Department and looks at the problem from an administrative point of view. “India generates approximately 1,33,760 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) per day, of which approximately 91,152 tonnes is collected and approximately 25,884 tonnes is treated. The Ministry of Environment and Forest issued the MSW (Management and Handling) Rules 2000 to ensure proper waste management in India, and the new updated draft rules, which have given power to the local bodies across India to decide the user fees, have recently been published,” said Birajdar. He explained that as per the new rules, municipal authorities will levy user fees for collection, disposal and processing from bulk generators. The generator will have to pay a ‘user fee’ to the waste collector and a ‘spot fine’ for littering and non-segregation, the quantum of which will be decided by the local bodies. Along with segregating waste, he feels the rest of the country must do what the Pune Municipality is doing — enforcing the practice of constructing one's own composting put for each new building.

Rewati Prabhu, one of the co-founders of the Jagriti Yatra, has worked in the urban infrastructure space and feels that the problems of waste and sanitation are different in urban and rural India, and the solutions need to be tailor-made, too. She gives two examples of low-cost sanitation solutions, also practised in Pune. One is the Shelter Associates, which works in slums and informal settlements to provide technical support for services essential to urban living. In their 'One Home, One Toilet' approach, individual toilets are made available to the beneficiary family on a cost-sharing basis where the beneficiary family also contributes towards the construction of the toilet. Last year, the Pune Corporation made use of worn out buses and converted them into women’s toilets. “When you don’t have infrastructure or space, then lateral solutions need to be thought of,” Rewati said, as she talked about the need for civil society to hold the government accountable by repeatedly sharing pictures of dirty toilets in government buildings. Interestingly, the train in which the yatris were travelling didn’t have water supply in the stretches between stations before reaching Vishakhapatnam, and the travellers had to tweet and re-tweet about this concern till they caught the government’s attention.

The train halted at Berhampur, Odisha, where Joe Madiath of an organisation called Gram Vikas committed to addressing the needs of drinking water and sanitation. Gram Vikas trains young, unskilled boys and girls in masonry to construct toilets and bathing rooms. The communities bear about 60 percent of the capital costs of sanitation and 25 percent of the costs of establishing a piped water supply system. Rivika Bisht, one of the young yatris, has recently finished working on a United States Agency for International Development project and concluded that people should receive micro-finance for consumption loans because the cost of building a decent toilet can go up to Rs 50,000. “A core fund is established that enables the growth of the community by collecting an average of Rs 1,000 per household. This amount is further invested to deliver water and sanitation services to new households in the village,” said Madiath, adding that the government’s Rs 12,000 subsidy isn’t enough and constructing a toilet to build a national statistic isn’t going to change unless NGOs and independent foundations work on changing mindsets.

The Jagriti Yatra also had people specifically working on effecting changes at the behavioural level. Ruchi Arora from Helping Hands, an NGO working toward making Alwar, Rajasthan a clean city, talked about her team of young volunteers who have been leading cleaning drives. “Rajasthan has a BJP government, then why doesn’t the Nagar Parishad in Alwar take an interest, say by installing public bins or working hand-in-hand with us? The government should increase the checks on how funds are being utilised,” shared Arora. Sitting next to her in a packed second class compartment was Harshikha Gupta, who has a Masters in Economics from BITS Pilani and has been working in villages in Tonk, Rajasthan. “The Information, Education and Communication (IEC) component in the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is meant to make behavioural changes through workshops, street plays, capacity building and the nigrani samiti, but if the Block District Officer (BDO) doesn’t take responsibility, even the best of schemes will lose purpose,” she said, adding that the entire machinery is slow and there should be more freelance workers on short-term visits to remote places on a rotational basis.

A majority of the tribal communities that Gram Vikas works with are un-electrified, and this provides the opportunity to devise alternate energy solutions. “For the government to electrify new villages, they’ll have to set up a complete electrical network consisting of transmission lines, transformers and a distribution system. If these villages are powered with DC micro-solar grids that can run basic things like a light, a fan and a television and the basic requirements are taken care of, resources and energy can be redirected to developing sanitation,” Sourav Agarwal, a solar energy expert on board the Jagriti Yatra, said as he deconstructed the synergy between problems. Nilesh, another energy expert, pointed out that the duration for installing net meters for solar power and regulations for sending data to statehood load dispatch centres is not clear, especially in states like Maharashtra, thus introducing glitches in the ease of exploiting alternate energy resources. “For a project during my Masters’, we used hollow steel piles to store solar energy underneath a building to make the building more self-sustainable,” said Mani Deep, currently pursuing his PhD in Earthquake Sciences from the US. Adding that Mani Deep’s model might work well in sanitation, energy management expert Akhil Shah, another yatri, said that the waste coming out of the building has to be processed till the very end, and that we need to get out of the out-of-pipe-out-of-mind mentality and accept that a more sustainably powered building will enable a more efficient disposal practice.

Interacting with the yatri contingent at Odisha’s Ganjam district was Gobind Dalai, a former associate of Joe Madiath at Gram Vikas. He summarised the problem that the region that the yatris were visiting was actually facing: 60,000 biogas plants in 17 districts of Odisha, including Kalahandi, Ganjam and coastal districts like Bhaleshwar and Bhadrak have been reduced to a mere 12,000-15,000 figure because cow rearing has reduced and cow dung isn’t as easily accessible. He further stated that the Odisha Renewable Energy Development Agency gives subsidy and a budget for renovation but experts feel that an enabling environment, such as the imparting of mason training and a general communitisation of the programme are still missing.

Firstpost is riding along with the Jagriti Yatra. You can read more articles about it here, here, here and here. Stay tuned for our daily updates.

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Updated Date: Jan 08, 2018 20:52 PM

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