With a constant scarcity of resources and manpower, eToilets can prove a boon to the Indian population and key catalyst for several government projects working on sanitation & hygiene, such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, across India. Created and customised after intensive R&D, these toilets are robust and long-lasting. Moreover, these toilets are playing a key role in addressing challenges related to spread of disease and ensuring appropriate facilities to women and young girls. In a very interesting conversation, Bincy Baby, Director, Eram Scientific Solutions, shares the reasons behind creating such an innovative solution.
The kind of services, such as electronic toilets, being offered by Eram Scientific Solutions (ESS) is very innovative and relevant both for the government and public. Therefore, we would like to know how you came across such a concept and idea?
ESS was started by Dr Siddeek Ahmed, who is from Kerala and Chairman of the Eram Group. With his base in Saudi Arabia, he had been actively intervening in all social development activities of Kerala. Incidentally, he was also massively disturbed by the statistics that suggest that over 50 per cent of the Indian population still defecate in open. And, most of the kidney diseases among women are due to the lack of appropriate sanitation facilities. We identified that basically sustainability is the major issue and the kind of manpower support required for toilets. As such, lack of toilets is not the real problem in India, rather the stigma attached with the entire concept of toilet.
n order to address healthcare challenges related to open defecation and remove the stigma attached to it, we ventured into public toilets. As such, household is altogether a different sector for us. We came up with the idea to have a technology that can in some way address the inherent challenges in sanitation that include lack of manpower, spread of infection, conservation of water, etc. Compared to a normal toilet, we can programme the water usage and cleaning to allow the optimal use of resources and avoid any kind of infection.
What kind of technical measures have been undertaken to avoid any kind of spread of communicable diseases through such publically shared systems? Basically, all these toilets are designed in such a way that cleanliness is maintained throughout. Since it is cleaned through a self-automated system, the chances of spread of infection are almost negligible. Additionally, we have deputed a person to go and check the toilets at regular intervals. Unlike manually operated toilets, the electronic toilets are largely self-automated and all mechanisms have been integrated to avoid any kind of cleanliness or hygiene issues. Such toilets are really beneficial for women who due to socioeconomic changes are mostly mobile these days. They can access napkin incinerators and vending machines installed in electronic toilets. Such toilets can also solve the issue of increased absenteeism amongst girls in remote areas due to lack of appropriate sanitation facilities.
Definitely such a solution is needed in a country like India; however, with such a large population and other challenges, what kind of roadblocks did you witness while campaigning for electronic toilets to policymakers and market players?
It had been a very difficult path for us, though we have been in this field for the last 8 years and have introduced the concept of eToilets or electronic toilets.
At a time when we have automation in almost all fields of our life, why not in sanitation. There need to be increased awareness that automation of pubic sanitation facilities is here to stay. The contention given by many people was that we do not need automation for something which is all about waste. This may be primarily due to the stigma attached with the concept of toilet. The waste can be the source of power for the community. With the great extent of innovation happening across the world on sanitation, India unfortunately still holds conventional beliefs regarding toilets. Therefore, it had been very difficult for us to change such an age-old thinking among people. Meanwhile, the Chennai Corporation, which is staging a lot of awareness on open defecation, conducted a study on our project and how it is different from conventional toilets on terms of payback. Interestingly, they came out with the finding that over the 5-year period the amount of money invested in conventional toilets is comparatively larger than what is invested in electronic toilets. Now, we have around more than 200 toilets running under the activities of the Chennai Corporation.
|Electronic Toilets – Key Takeaways|
The entire concept of eToilet is close to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Please provide details how closely are you working with the government bodies.
One significant project we did under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project for Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Foundation. We installed 600 electronic toilets in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh for a remote school where students have been using eToilets for the first time. Over 1 year now, the electronic toilets are still working perfectly fine. We also have the maintenance mechanism also integrated in the system. One advantage of electronic toilets is the ease of installation. They come in a pre-assembled condition and it’s only matter of transportation, fixing and connecting it to the utility supply. For mass deployment, this is a perfect product for sanitation. We are also working with Shell in Gujarat along with Surat Municipal Corporation. We are planning to do more such projects. We have not gone into an aggressive marketing strategy, but there has been good references from the authorities to other municipalities to use the eToilets as a solution to their long-standing public sanitation worries .
It has worked well in Bengaluru, Chennia, Mumbai and Delhi. Now we are moving to Gujarat, Punjab and Maharashtra in a big way based on our understanding. In context of smart city, we can provide the government a connected electronic toilet infrastructure via web or mobile interface. This product gels with the Internet of Things (IoT) concept. This way we can understand how many people have accessed toilets, income generated from such a system, etc. We launched the school model at just Rs 1 lakh as part of our CSR.
As we all know that Indians are really particular about making investment in only durable products. How much durable are electronic toilets and how often do they require maintenance? Actually, electronic toilets are made of stainless steel, which is certified to last more than 20 years. The toilet as a structure has no problem both from the angle of robustness and structural integrity. The product will stand for a long time. It also has no issues like regular maintenance of tiles, etc.; we have to only ensure that the toilet has adequate water and power supply. We have a very dedicated team with a network of around 200 service providers across India who attend to the toilets. We ensure that the burden of maintenance is borne by us in a responsible manner. Where there is no power option, we connect toilets through solar supply. It had withstood the HudHud cyclone in Vizag and the worst floods of Chennai as a testimony of tis robustness.