"The women were keen to earn a living, but the idea of handling human waste was a major mental block. This is where we took them to some toilet pits which had been lying unused and filled to the brim. We showed them that what lay inside was nothing but a tea powder-like substance. "
IAS officer Ayush Prasad, the Deputy Collector of Khed Taluka in Pune, had a persistent problem in the villages under his jurisdiction. Many villagers were not using the toilets built by the government; they preferred defecating in the open.
When some people did use the proper toilets, their pits would fill up, but there was no one to empty them. All the night soil collected in the pits would just go to waste even as it contained a high nutritional value.
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It would have been a difficult task to approach these three problems separately. The issues were recurring and tackling them one at a time would demand triple the effort.
So, Prasad came up with a single solution to end all three issues–to empower the villagers with a regular income using toilet waste!
Speaking to Pune Mirror, the IAS officer said, “In some rural areas, there is an inertia towards using toilets.
Though the government has been funding their construction for years, some villagers still prefer going out in the open.
Moreover, with a ban on manual scavenging, getting toilets pits emptied is a task”
The project wouldn’t be successful unless the night soil was tested for its nutritional value, so Prasad approached the Directorate of Onion and Garlic Research (DOGR) earlier this year to test the collected night soil.
By May, the researchers came back with positive results. Not only was the night soil able to grow onions fit for consumption, but it also gave nine per cent more yield than chemical fertilisers and 47% more yield than organic manure!
Prasad added, “I realised that if we promoted the concept of commercially exploiting night soil, locals could be motivated to use toilets so that their pits would fill faster. Also, once the pits filled to the brim are left unused for a few months, clearing them does not fall under scavenging.”
With the success of these tests, the next challenge was to convince the villagers to clear their toilets. For this, he took the help of IAS officers Indira Aswar and Sonali Avchat.
Aswar is the Block Development Officer, and the head of the Maharashtra State Rural Livelihoods Mission (MSRLM) and Avchat is the block co-ordinator of MSRLM.
The civil servants had to convince villagers to shed their inhibitions and start cleaning the pits so they could earn a living. Avchat shares, “The women were keen to earn a living, but the idea of handling human waste was a major mental block. This is where we took them to some toilet pits which had been lying unused and filled to the brim. We showed them that what lay inside was nothing but a tea powder-like substance. We also emptied the pits with our own hands to help build confidence.”
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Durga Nangre, the head of the self-help group working on the project that Prasad started says that there was internal opposition in the beginning. She says, “A lot of women felt that clearing toilets is a job for scavengers, not farmers. There were concerns about hygiene. But, over time, the government officials visiting us addressed all of them.”
The pits are not supposed to be cleared out for several months, one misconception that led to the reservations of the villagers.
Rather, each toilet has two pits, and when one of them fills up, it can be closed with a lid, while the other is to be used.
In the few months that it takes for the second pit to fill up, the components of the first pit have transformed from wet waste to night-soil of tea-powder consistency. Prasad arranged for this night soil from the villages to be bought by multi-national corporations like Mahindra & Mahindra.
With the MNCs demanding a substantial quantity of night soil for their gardens in Pune city, self-help groups in the villages engage in business. Each pit gives about 80 kg of night soil and is sold at Rs 20 per kilo.
“Our first order of 5,000 kg worth Rs 1 lakh from Mahindra & Mahindra has given us a boost, and all the groups are energised,” says Prasad.
Since the night soil is helping villagers earn a good amount of money, they now prefer using the toilet pits rather than defecating in the open. After observing the IAS officers, they also shed their inhibitions, and now their waste earns them lakhs!
IAS Officer Ayush Prasad is certainly showing how innovative thinking can lead to development and empowerment!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)
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