The mere utterance of the words public toilet brings an unpleasant image to one’s mind and the hand promptly rises up to the nose to resist the virtual stench. If passing by a public toilet seems like an ordeal to many city dwellers, one cannot even imagine the woes of those who are compelled to use it regularly.
To change this bleak scenario, an NGO and a startup have come together with Thane’s municipal corporation to revamp the public toilets.
In a unique initiative, the NGO Habitat for Humanity India and Sunvest, a solar energy company specialising in residential and rooftop solar systems, have joined hands to create a solar-powered Community Sanitation Complex with 24×7 access to water and electricity.
“Habitat has been focusing on the sanitation aspect since 2014. We decided to run it on solar power because it’s environment friendly and by storing the generated energy in batteries, we can ensure 24×7 power backup. It’s a 1.5 kW solar power system with full battery backup”, says the head of programmes at Habitat, John Prasanth Prabhakar.
The pilot project started in September 2016, in Sathewadi, a small suburb of Thane. The existing public toilet was taken by the team and given a facelift. Now the good-as- new public toilet has become a boon for residents.
“Sathewadi was the first pilot, where an existing toilet complex was rebuilt to impact 200 families living in the community. This was our first community project and we are happy that it has been successful. The makeover of the toilet involved adding LED motion sensing lights, introducing multi-functional smart card access for the family members, installing CCTVs for security and monitoring all activities through a personal computer. All of these functions are powered by solar energy,” informs Sishir Garemella, founder and CEO of Sunvest.
The solar-powered Community Sanitation Complex has a hybrid system that can run on solar power, battery or even Maharashtra state grid’s electricity. A group of local women manages the functioning and cleaning of the complex. They have also been trained in the maintenance of the solar panels.
Another unique feature of the sanitation complex is that it’s accessible with a smart card. Habitat has provided all the members of the 200 families in Sathewadi with individual smart cards using which the toilets can be accessed.
“These smart cards are multifunctional. It’s not only for the access to the sanitation complex, but they’ll also be able to pay the bills etc using these cards,” informs Prabhakar.
Since the completion of the complex, the residents have been really happy with the system.
“The bathrooms are accessible 24×7 throughout the year. There’s electricity as well as water available at all times. There wouldn’t be electricity in the evenings before. So women would be scared to come alone. Now, it feels safe,” informs Ashish Amkar, a resident of Sathewadi.
In near future, Habitat plans to roll out more such Community Sanitation Complexes across Thane together with the Thane Municipal Corporation.
“Sathewadi is an example of how simple, affordable clean energy solutions can be used to build a better India. We have the technology, intent and drive to power India into a brighter future,” concludes Sishir.