One Woman Is Taking India’s Sanitation Problem Head-On With Some Amazing Solutions

In India, more people own a mobile phone than a toilet at home. As per Census 2011 data on houses, household amenities and assets, 49.8%  Indians defecate in the open. About 77 percent of homes in Jharkhand have no toilet facilities. With almost half of 1.2 billion people in India defecating in public, we surely have a big question mark on the hygiene levels in the country.

So, what can be the solution to the problem? Constructing a toilet in every house comes as an obvious answer, but is it as simple? “We’d rather use the space and money for something else more useful than the construction of bathroom ,” says Vinod,  a resident of Sangnal Village in North Karnataka. When building toilets itself is such a big issue, doing it in an eco-friendly way looks like a far cry.

This is where Banka Bioloo Pvt Ltd. comes into picture. They focus on making the nature’s call a more nature-friendly one. Started by Sanjay and Namita Banka, the organization aims at solving India’s biggest problem of clean water and sanitation. We caught up with Sanjay Banka to know more about the organization. Here is all you need to know-

banka bioloo3

How did it all start?

Banka BioLoo Pvt Ltd, a firm with its roots in Banka Enterprises, is committed to environmental betterment and is keen to eradicate the practice of open defecation. We are a ‘human waste management’ company, using the bio-digester technology and its various innovations and applications.

A course in NGO Management in 2009 was a turning point for Namita Banka, the founder of Banka BioLoo. During that period she learnt about social entrepreneurship and decided to work towards betterment of the society and environment, and also take it as a full-time profession. She tried different fields and finally sanitation was an area to which she connected herself, as she herself had faced a lot of problems due to lack of proper sanitation facilities.

She worked closely with the Indian Railways to adopt good environmental-friendly products and services and effectively manage their resources. It is at that time she actively worked with the officials and the vendors as a liasioner to improve the sanitation situation in the coaches by continuous monitoring and attending to the schedules of these toilets on a frequent basis. This helped in improving the state of CDTS (controlled discharge toilet system) and it later helped her to bag the supply and service contracts.

Bio-toilets aroused her curiosity in 2011. She learnt that Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed the bio-digester technology, which can be utilized for treatment of human waste where one need not empty the collection tank, helping to nullify the cost of transporting and disposing the sewage form the location. It was a new beginning for her and one of her biggest opportunities. With a deep concern for her fraternity, Namita strongly believes that bio-toilets will help raise the dignity and enhance the security of the womenfolk.

What are the problems you are trying to solve?

POOR SANITATION and OPEN DEFECATION are the main problems we are trying to address at large. We came across toilets that were being used as stores and people continued to defecate in the open.

India’s population is 1.2 billion people. Over 50% of these (626 million people, according to government and intra-governmental bodies) don’t have access to sanitation.

Most cities and towns in India are characterized by over-crowding, congestion, inadequate water supply and inadequate facilities of disposal of human excreta, waste-water and solid waste.

No major city in India is known to have a continuous water supply and an estimated 72% of Indians still lack access to improved sanitation facilities.

Public health system is weak and sanitation hardly attracts the attention of the government and policy makers, apart from the requisite public spending.

banka bioloo2

What is the solution and how does it work?

Our offerings include bio-toilets for families, public, community, schools and institutions; bio-tanks for Indian Railways and other clients; bio-digesters (the bacterial culture) for bio-toilets and bio-tanks; and upgrade of septic tanks to bio-tanks. We also service bio-toilets, and have entered into annual maintenance and operations contracts (AMOC) with Railway zones and other corporate bodies.

We provide eco-friendly and sustainable solutions for sanitation in rural and urban areas. Our bio-toilets (or bioloos) help treat human waste using bacterial culture, which eliminates the need for its disposal and treatment.

Our toilet system disposes the human waste:

• in 100% eco-friendly manner

• saves energy

• conserves water

• produces bio-gas

Banka BioLoo solutions address the following customer needs/pain-points:

• Meet the need for basic, easy-to-install and hygienic human waste disposal mechanism in areas with no infrastructural facilities , such as sewerage treatment plants.

• Address the need for a cheaper and easy-to-operate alternative to the traditional waste disposal system.

The Technology

• Our sanitation solutions are based on the patented “bio-digester” technology developed by DRDO. We are the license holders and have partnered with them  for technology commercialization for large scale deployment of sanitation solutions in India and across the world.

• Bio-digester is a consortium of anaerobic bacteria, which have been screened and gradually adapted to work at temperatures as low as -5°C through the isolation of psychrophilic bacteria from Antarctica/Siachen. These act as inoculums (seed material) to the bio-digesters and convert the organic waste into methane and CO2. The anaerobic process inactivates the pathogens responsible for water-borne diseases. Bio-digesters serve as reaction vessels for bio-methanation and provide anaerobic conditions and the required temperature for the bacteria.

We have been working on product innovations and applying this technology to varied sanitation requirements.

How big is your team?

We are slightly above 100 and the team members manufacture various types of bio-tanks, toilet super structures, inoculate the bio-digester bacteria, install bio-toilets, upgrade septic tanks to bio-tanks, mount bio-tanks to train toilets and last but not the least, service team members maintain and operate bio-toilets for Railways and other organizations.

How far you have come in your journey since the time you started?

We have come a good long way from the initial days. We are now in the growth phase, and are spreading in our geographic reach. Manufacturing units, too, have increased.

What has been the impact?

There has been strong impact on society and on environment. Across 6 states, and apart from working with Railways, we have positively impacted 25,000 people daily in 2013-14 through bioloo installations, and this number is growing.

Namita Banka

Namita Banka – Founder and CEO

What are the challenges faced?

Lack of Funds for Mass Deployment of Projects

As a small company, Banka BioLoo has limited funds. This poses challenges in undertaking big projects (for mass deployment of bioloos). On occasions, we find ourselves constrained in bidding for larger projects – as the fund requirement is high. To overcome this issue, we are in talks with parties that can finance projects of larger magnitude.

Lack of Professional Expertise

The bio-toilet sector, being a nascent one, doesn’t have adequate experienced professionals. As the industry evolves, we hope to overcome this challenge. That apart, many general professionals are averse to working in the “toilet field”. We are trying to explain the immense benefit of the bioloo to the society. The socio-economic-eco-friendly system, as it matures, will attract people committed to the cause.

Prioritization Challenge

With too many aspects and items on the agenda – it gets difficult to prioritize. We receive enquiries from across the country, have on-going projects, are approached by various parties, invited to visit different sites, and have Railway projects and contracts to fulfill. With all this, at times it becomes challenging to sort out and set appropriate priorities. Though we may want to do everything, everywhere, all at once – we find ourselves constrained with so much on the platter. We’ve been working on this, and are steadily working out our priorities. Given our capacity and reach, we are undertaking projects that we can execute immediately, relegating some to the medium-term, and for others working out partnerships to execute in consortia.

What the future holds?

We want to keep spreading the word, install bioloos across the nation, transform the rail tracks from night-soil-laden to fecal-matter-free.

The two cents?

The sector is unglamorous, and people would shun it. Nevertheless, be your own guiding spirit and surge ahead.

To know more about Banka Bioloo, please visit their website here: http://www.bankabio.com/

Have something to share? Leave a comment here, write to us: [email protected], connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

About the Author: Born with a hobby to travel, talk, express and write, Shreya gets to do all of that and is even paid for it! Interested in rural development and social issues, she dreams of actually bringing a change in society and writing a book of her own one day. When she is not preaching others about a better India she is busy watching movies and playing video games. Follow her on twitter: @shreya08
Editing: Shruti Mehrotra

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