Birupakshya Dixit

Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Birupakshya

  • Making the invisible Eco-Warriors; the informal Waste Pickers, visible

    April 24th, 2017

    I see few of them every morning; first while going for my walk and then while going to my office. They come to the locality little early before the municipal authorized waste pickers come for the waste collection so as they can segregate the reusable items beforehand, collect those and then can sell it to the kabadiwala. I am talking about the “informal waste pickers” who play a big role in keeping the city and neighborhood clean, but don’t get the recognition they deserve. Bhubaneswar generates around 600 tonnes of solid waste per day and the city is providing habitation to around 1500 numbers of waste pickers and their families.

    Some research report shows 90% of discarded recyclable PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) in India gets recycled, ahead of countries with formalized waste management. Most of these are collected by informal waste collectors who sell it to middlemen who then resell to recycling factories. In most of the cities the same business model is working.

    Go and meet few waste pickers you will clearly observe that lower caste or Dalits and other minorities are mostly performing this task. They belong to the most marginalized sections of the city. Most of them are uneducated and even their children perform the same task. And yes they are associated with dirt. The stray dogs bark at them and even the most of the city dwellers look at them differently.

    The misery is that they clean and appears dirty and we dirt the city and appear clean. Do not you think they do a great job !!! They need recognition for this job which they perform for their livelihood.  As most of them are not educated they are cheated by the middle man and sell their collected materials at a lesser price. As they are not into formal sector they perform the task without any safety gear and put their health at risk. I accept they do this job as per their own wish but from a different angle, they perform the task of the local municipality without being paid for that.

    We at Practical Action initiated a project among the children of the informal waste pickers few years back. And one component of that project was to formalize the informal waste workers and provide them with valid identity card so that they can take the benefit of the government schemes. I am not going to discuss the whole project achievement here, but the field team managed by a local NGO called as CCWD made tremendous efforts with technical support from Practical Action in influencing the municipality to recognize the work of the informal waste works. The project was funded by BVLF for 2 years.

    BMC Mayor Sri Ananta Narayan Jena handing over ID card to waste workers of Bhubaneswar

    When it came to the social security of the Informal waste workers, the state had no provisions for them and one of the major reason was, these waste workers were not identified in the labour category. We continued our advocacy for more than a year with taking up a lot of initiatives. We formed the ‘Abrajana Gotali Mahasangha’ the first of its kind formal union among the waste pickers of the city. A series of training programmes on different safety measures and awareness on getting their basic facilities from the municipality were organised. The union later took this up and went ahead to meet the municipal authorities along with the project staffs. After several meetings and approach, the authority finalized acknowledged the informal waste workers of the city and a process of identification was initiated.

    Deputy commissioner BMC Sri Srimanta Mishra among the waste workers with their ID cards

    The municipality agreed to provide valid identity card to the informal waste pickers and also some additional benefits in terms of safety and social security was assured. Though the project is over but a constant supervision has led to a number of 755 informal waste workers being provided with the identity card. They are now recognized as labours in other category and this makes them eligible to get benefits from various government schemes.

    Yet again, this number is not enough. This is the story of just one city. Odisha has more than 100 urban local bodies where we can find the similar set of people. This is high time, other municipalities and urban local bodies must consider the informal waste workers and provide them with the required social security and safety what they deserve.

    ( Download ‘LIFE DIGNIFIED’ a case study compendium on the said project here. )

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  • Faecal Sludge Management in Odisha; The new sanitation challenge

    Chhui, Madhya Pradesh, 480990, IN, Chhui
    September 23rd, 2016

    Healthy communities are the outcome of effective sanitation practices. Life and livelihood of people largely depends on their health and hence, sanitation holds a major role in it. Thinking beyond toilet, it’s time to ponder about treatment of the human waste and reuse it for the betterment of environment and a healthy life.

    As per the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP 2011) India contributes to 58 per cent of the world’s population defecating in the open. And according to last census in 2011, an overwhelming 1.7 lakh households (48.33%) or 8.5 lakh people in the slums of Odisha defecate in the open.

    It is noted that, if 1 truck of sludge is exposed unsafely then it is equivalent to 5000 people defecating in open. In this context, if we go by the mission of toilet for all, there will be a huge amount of scarcity of water and also the faecal sludge will be the next problem we will have to face.

    Looking at the smart approach of our urban planners and urban development practitioners, now it is highly essential for all urban settlements to come up with solution to deal with faecal sludge. Having proper disposal and a well-planned faecal sludge management is highly needed and should be given much importance in the current context. What if we achieve the objectives of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and we achieve hundred percent toilets in the state and country. And we do not have a sludge management policy which will lead the disposal of solid sludge into our river bodies and also open field. What are we aiming at!!! From open defecation to mass defecation, where are we heading?? Are building toilets will solve the problems or will create a new sanitation challenge??

    Let’s look beyond, while addressing a problem also let’s also address the broader sanitation challenges ahead. According to report by Odisha Water Supply and sewerage board, out of the 60 Lakh people staying in 23 Urban local bodies, 31 percent approx. are defecating in open and among people using toilets, only 49 percent households have septic tanks.

    This is again sad, that only 2 per cent liquid waste are treated in the state and 98 per cent either percolates to ground water or adjoining water bodies through surface drains without treatment. Waters from Rivers such as Brahmani, Daya, Kathajori can hardly be used for further drinking water purpose. Discharge from insanitary latrines, sewage flowing in drains, effluent from septic tanks, septage, and rampant open defecation are polluting the environment and having adverse health impacts to all of us residing in the state. At present no ULB other than Puri has any sewerage system inside the urban limits. This is shocking and we need to act upon it immediately.

    Here, comes the solution. The Faecal Sludge Management and treatment is the need of the hour. The untreated human waste what we call faecal sludge needs to be treated. Be it household level or institutional level, it needs to be treated and an appropriate system needs to be in place if we want healthy life and healthy community.

    There are few things which can major take away for an effective FSM policy and management. Decentralized FSM can be a good demonstration on these public utilities and Possibility to introduce decentralized FSM in newly developing areas, public institutions like schools, universities, hospitals, apartment etc is something which needs to be addressed by planning bodies. A conducive environment for private sector and the promotion of PPP model in FSM Private Sectors will create more scope for funding opportunity for infrastructural development. Onsite sanitation solutions seemed necessary to disseminate with sanitation stakeholders for their possible promotion.

    If we look at the government initiatives, now Septage management in nine cities / towns of the State (Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Sambalpur, Berhampur, Baripada, Balasore, Bhadrak and Puri has been included under ‘AMRUT’ launched by GoI. The draft DPRs for septage treatment facility in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Sambalpur and Baripada has been prepared by OWSSB. Pre-requisite measures like land identification and acquisition are in progress. In order to regulate construction, cleaning, maintenance, treatment and disposal of septage in urban areas, government has formulated the Odisha Urban Septage Management Guideline 2016. Government has taken steps for procurement of 86 nos of 3KL Cesspool Emptier for 57 ULBs. All these information has been shared by OWSSB in public domain but still there is a long way to go.  There has been experiments faecal sludge treatment in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Philipines, Argentina, Ghana and Brazil etc. Even in India there have been few experiments in Bangalore. But no urban local body has come up with a proper plan of action for the same. However, in Odisha the state government has partnered with few philanthropic organisations and there has been two pilot projects of faecal sludge management are happening in Dhenkanal and Angul Municipality. If these proved efficient use of faecal sludge then Odisha can be the pioneer in setting up a system for disposal of human excreta.

    Further to add on, the amount of water being wasted in toilet, if the faecal sludge treatment is not combined with waste water management then, in coming days, there will be a huge scarcity of water. This may also lead to dearth of drinking water, which may break the nerves of any government creating challenge for the urban governance.  When a comprehensive sanitation plan is being developed, faecal sludge management must be integral part of every sanitation plan, which builds on on-site sanitation facilities. Sludge management is an indispensable part of the maintenance of these facilities. However, in reality sludge management is often neglected in sanitation planning because the need for it is less apparent than it is for the provision of water supply or toilet facilities. Even when a sanitation plan foresees a component for sludge management, its implementation is often impaired for the same reasons. Sanitation planners and decision-makers must recognize the importance of sludge management.

    As we have seen the adverse impacts of human excreta causing harm to human health and hygiene now, its time we must be proactive. With the campaigns of building toilets we must be tighten our belt for proper disposal mechanism. On the eve of toilet day, the urban sanitation planners must look at the mechanism of proper faecal sludge management.

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  • How should we approach faecal sludge management?

    June 8th, 2016

    Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) being the need of the hour, planners and policy makers must invest time and energy in research. As this is completely new to India and yet to develop a market and demand, I got an opportunity to visit Indah Water Konsortium, Malaysia to see their faecal sludge and sewage treatment sites.

    INDAH WATER KONSORTIUM SDN BHD (IWK) is the national sewerage company wholly-owned by Minister of Finance Incorporated and operates as a private company under the Company’s Act. It is responsible for providing sewerage services, operating and maintaining over 5,750 public sewage treatment plants and 13,000km networks of sewerage pipelines since April 1994 when it was awarded a concession to provide nationwide sewerage services. It is also entrusted with desludging over 1 million septic tanks and managing the sludge that is generated.

    Oxidation Pond

    Oxidation Pond

    They have a mixture of modern as well as early age technologies and are planning to replace all the old technologies with modern mechanical systems over the next few years. Along with some of their senior staff I visited Mechanical Dewatering Unit, Sludge Drying Bed, Trenching site, Geo tubes, Imhoff Tank, Aerated Lagoon, CSTP and SBR. Being a non-technical person, I won’t go into the details but rather, highlight the learning and outcomes that every planner in India trying out FSM should keep in mind.

    Highly mechanized equipment is the standard feature of most of the treatment sites at present.  There are several logical reasons for going for mechanical treatment plants, however one important reason is such plants do not require much land. Usually the land costs are very high in Malaysia. But one needs to accept that mechanical plants really need technically competent people to manage, operate and maintain them.

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    Imhoff Tank

    The energy in form of electricity they use is huge. I learned that 40% of the treatment unit’s expenditure is on electricity. This adversely affects the business model of FSM. I also visited Imhoff Tanks which are a zero energy based treatment technology. However as the mechanical units have many advantages over older technologies they have to go for these. In this context, solar or green energy could be used to increase sustainability and make it an economic business model.

    Initially IWK had not taken into consideration the use of end products like the dried sludge and the treated water. Now they are facing problems disposing of the dried sludge though they are able to release the treated water to the river and have started reusing the treated water in few of their offices. I was told that given a chance to begin again they would start with proper planning for the reuse of the end product. In such a scenario it’s very important to plan out the disposal of all the output. Reuse for something meaningful is something the planners must look at. In our projects in India, we are looking at using sludge as manure and there are other possibilities as well. But to a great extent the prior planning of reusing treated sludge or waste water is something which will change the fate of the FSM plan.

    The fixed tariff for providing treatment services did not increase at a rational rate over the years. The government could not increase the cost because of the fear that people might not react positively.  So the company faced a severe loss. However, the government decided to take over responsibility and took over the company, originally started as private company. This means the government decided to subsidize the whole business for political reasons, which creates an important question as to whether there was a business plan!

    Three of their units are making profit because the users are able to pay a higher amount for services like emptying and transportation as most of their users are commercial buildings. But is it possible in an Indian context? Centralised systems if not privatised may suffer losses. If privatised, could be properly regulated to serve all classes of people, adding another dimension to FSM in India.

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    CSTP

    Building legislation is something we can think of in a country like India. Here is Malaysia, a builder who constructs more than 30 houses has to provide a treatment plant and hand over it to IWK to maintain and operate. This helps ensure the availability of an adequate number of treatment plants in most of the locations which ultimately help the environment.

    The relationship between the local authorities and the federal government is worth discussing. Previously, sanitation was the job of local authorities but when this treatment plan was built the federal government took over responsibility. Now the local authorities are taking no interest in the work. Sometimes getting land for different process of treatment is becoming difficult. In a country like India, where a 3 tier system exists, planners need to ensure they keep all of them engaged in the work. The system should be developed in such a way, people responsible for the FSM must be accountable anda  social audit is a must for the same reason.

    I was amazed to see the work they are doing. While open defecation is unknown to Malaysia I belong to a country where around half the population are practising open defecation, half the toilets are used as store rooms and whoever uses the toilet is not bothered about their sludge treatment. But this visit really gave me a hope. If we can become OD free as our Prime Minister has proclaimed, then we need a reality check with our sludge management systems and policies. Practical Action and some other organizations have started the process but we have a long way to go and much still to be done.

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  • ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ : An experiment that needs further support

    April 4th, 2016

    “Sunalo Sakhi” is a small demonstration project started under the banner of Practical Answers at the beginning of 2016. The local partner CCWD happily agreed to partner with us for 3 months to implement the program in 15 slums of Bhubaneswar. This Bhubaneswar based NGO has strong grass root level presence and as this project was for a small period. We decided to use the already existed groups formed by the local NGO for the successful running of the project.

    The project focussed on educating adolescent girls on menstrual hygiene. Many development organizations have comprehensive programmes on and around this issue. But what made us different from others is the multi faceted campaigning through radio shows, podcasting, individual counselling, focused group discussion, and film screenings in slums and in nearby high-schools.

    We are happy to share that in Bhubaneswar we broadcast the first ever radio show exclusively on menstrual hygiene.

    Some of the notable achievements of this three month project are;

    1. Through radio we are reaching out to directly around 2000 young girls and women in 15 slums
    2. Through our community outreach programme we are reaching out to more than 3000 girls and women.
    3. Through film screening we are reaching out to more than 500 school going girls
    4. 15 Kishori Clubs have been revived with 386 members and many change agents have been identified to keep on sharing the knowledge with their peers

    As the radio has a 25 KM radius cover of Bhubaneswar it is reaching even more adolescent girls of the city than those in our project area. During the radio shows our community workers are ensuring their presence in the field where the adolescent girls are able to ask their questions through telephone calls and our resource person is immediately answering the questions.
    IMG_2637 (Cópia)

    It was really nice to hear the experiences of Usharani, Babita and Auropriya in the sharing workshop. Auropriya said that these shows helped her to prepare herself as she was about to attain puberty. Now she knows how to maintain hygiene during her periods. Usharani and Babita said that this has really helped many young girls as they were not able to ask anyone their concerns and the radio shows have addressed many of the issues of their fellow girls.

    The project has successfully identified many blind beliefs associated with menstruation and developed knowledge products to address those. There are 436 slums in the city and many girls are deprived of such knowledge. I must accept we need further resources to expand the programmes. Hence, we are exploring partnership with some of the like minded organizations. But there are a few key things that I hope the project team will work on:

    1. Sharing our recordings with other community radio stations managed by non-profits and requesting that they broadcast these in their operational areas
    2. Sharing the knowledge products with other organizations
    3. Ensuring Kishori club members keep sharing their knowledge with their peers.

    The sharing meeting opened up new windows to educate more girls in different regions. Using community radio across the state, this kind of programme can now reach out to thousands of other girls in need of resources.  Technology has now forward a step in witnessing a change in the hygiene practice of young girls and we wish to spread this knowledge with more communities.

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  • Finally I saw a micro hydro project……

    September 18th, 2015

    IMG_2255The place is not safe as it is said to be an extremist area. It takes around two hours to reach the village of Badamanjari from Koraput by a hired field vehicle. I have never used a road of such kind, earthen and muddy one, going through the hills where the vehicle can slip if there is rain. But I decided to go there as I was not able to control my anxiety to see a successful micro hydro project. The previous day I had tried to see one which is near to the district headquarter but I could not go there because of heavy rain. The vehicle got stuck in the mud and the driver was not ready to take us uphill.

    IMG_2345Badamanjari village can be termed one of the remotest, having no roads, electricity or mobile network.  It is a tough place to stay. On the other hand, the scenic beauty of the village cannot be expressed in words. Surrounded with hills and forest and small hill streams the village can contribute to tourism in the state. The village is mostly inhabited by the indigenous communities with around 91 households. Agriculture is the main source of income.

    IMG_2353 Practical Action is working with a broken micro hydro which provided electricity to the villagers for 6-7 years. The people have a taste for  electricity but remain deprived of it as it was damaged. With the support of a local NGO partner, Koraput Farmers Association (KFA) Practical Action took up the task of rehabilitating it and ensure a community based management system. The project aimed at providing electricity to the villagers along with establishing rural enterprises with the use of electricity.

    The following inputs were provided for the better management of the micro hydro;

    1. Skill development around enterprise development such as business plan development, market research through PMSD
    2. Rehabilitation of civil components and electro-mechanical components
    3. Renewal of power-based enterprises and installation of new enterprises.

    IMG_2365

    Now the system produces more than 30kw of electricity – just as before, this electrifies around 110 households in two villages; Badamanjari and Phulpadar. Besides this two enterprises have been established by the community members with our technical support – rice hulling and turmeric processing.

    As the villagers may not be able to pay a big amount towards the user charges for the consumption of electricity, the plan is to collect somewhat a good amount (as per meter) from the enterprises which can sustain the system. Still the villagers have decided to collect Rs. 30/- per month per household towards the charges. All the enterprises have started but it will take little time to make those fully functional in terms of market.

    IMG_2362I am not sure if the village will get a grid connection in near future, but this micro hydro is definitely going to change the fate of the two villages in coming years. The children can now study in the evening. A few people have already purchased televisions. Both of these will help to educate the children and community as well.

    The doors are open for them to see the wider world now.

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