Practical Action: Dhenkanal Municipality in India proud of completion of Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant

Practical Action: Dhenkanal Municipality in India proud of completion of Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant

After close to three years of hard work a new faecal sludge treatment plant is soon to become fully operational in the Municipality of Dhenkanal, Odisha State, India. The plant has been built by Practical Action, with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Arghyam. The Centre for Policy Research has been the other implementing partner responsible for some other elements of the project.

This comes just weeks after the town of around 70,000 people (around 8,000 of whom live in 18 authorised slum communities) declared itself ‘Open Defecation Free’ a remarkable achievement given that the baseline study conducted by Practical Action in 2015 found that in the town’s slum communities, rates of open defecation were as high as 86% and even in non-slum communities a third of households had no access to a toilet. In slum areas, the quality of these toilets were poor and bad smells discouraged some from using them. The Swachh Bharat Mission has clearly played a big role here. The town’s leadership has been supported too to help prioritise these issues and develop clear plans.

Even before improvements in the provision of toilets, it was clear from the baseline survey that there were significant problems with the safe management of faecal sludge. Where toilets did exist, 62% were pit latrines and the rest were septic tanks. Nearly all these septic tanks (95%) are connected to an open drain.

Where toilets are emptied, this is done through a Municipal vacuum truck, or by manual scavengers. The contents is disposed of in open fields, drains or water bodies. The demand for emptying is more than can be catered for by the single municipal vehicle of 3m3 which on average makes only a single trip per day, so people rely on manual scavengers who can do the job more quickly. They are also able to access some areas which cannot be reached by the municipal vehicles. Only 29% of households had emptied their toilet within their living memory. The municipality has recently acquired another two vehicles.

The Treatment Plant now becomes a key part of the solution as toilets have been constructed. This was part of the package recommended under the City Sanitation Plan developed through participatory consultations under the project: the first of its kind to incorporate faecal sludge management in the State.

The plant itself is designed to handle up to 27m3 of sludge per day, which should be sufficient to serve the entire town’s population even when it grows to an estimated 110,000 by 2030. It is divided into three units each of which can cater for an input of 9m3 per day. The new treatment plant is designed to be simple and efficient to operate, with a gravity-based system based on natural and biological treatment. The treatment comprises of several processes, with an initial screening followed by drying beds as the main treatment unit, and a planted gravel filter. The design will ensure the water and bio-solids after treatment meet Indian standards, and can be used for irrigation and as a soil conditioner on nearby farm land.

The Municipality has decided that desludging services and management of the plant will be integrated through contracting a private operator. At the State level, a new financial allocation will be made available under a dedicated budget line to fund the operation and maintenance of faecal sludge systems by the Municipalities.

Finalising the plant’s construction is a huge milestone for the project, and the State, marking Dhenkanal as one of very few towns of this size to have the capacity to safely manage its faecal waste. The challenge ahead will be to ensure effective operation and maintenance, tackling the practices of connecting septic tanks to open drains and encouraging behavior change not only in regular use of toilets, but the regular use of the emptying services. This is a challenge all the stakeholdersremain strongly committed to achieving so that we have a healthy and clean living environment in Dhenkanal and a role model on Faecal Sludge Management and the Clean India Campaign not only in other towns of Odisha but for the entire nation.

Article by Lucy Stevens, Hrudananda Mohanty, Urvashi Asthana
Photo credits: Practical Action (CC)