Around 10,000 bottles of human faecal matter, which decomposed in toilet pits that were sealed six months to a year ago, sun-dried over the last one week, sieved into a tea leaf-like consistency and packed into glass jars, have been sent to Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad from Akola in Maharashtra by truck.
These jars of 100 grams of completely organic manure, high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and prepared with a sprinkling seeds that will germinate upon watering, will be presented to guests on October 2 at the celebrations to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the India Express reported.
The Akola Zilla Parishad and UNICEF, who worked for the Maharashtra government, together undertook the project to empty toilet pits, collect and process the manure. The initiative aims to promote the use of decomposed waste from nearly 10 crore toilets built across the nation under the flagship programme of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi led Central government - Swachh Bharat.
The government of Maharashtra has named the Sona Khaad (golden fertilizer), suggesting to a gold standard of sustainability — the toilet pits can be re-used only once they are emptied, and the decomposed waste simply goes back into the soil.
Yusuf Kabir, UNICEF Mumbai's Water and Sanitation Hygiene specialist had in 2017 started the delinking of caste and stigma from the emptying of toilet pits. "Secretary to the Government of India Param Iyer, who was then heading the Swachh Bharat Mission, emptied out a toilet pit in a village in Telangana. Later, Bollywood actors and others emptied toilet pits, to show that you do not even need safai workers to empty out the scientific twin pits, something not possible in a septic tank. The stigma associated with cleaning out the pits was removed," the Express quoted Kabir as saying.
According to the daily, UNICEF Maharashtra has, a couple of years ago, prepared a step-by-step protocol on emptying out twin pit toilets Kabir told the national daily that giving guests at Sabarmati Ashram little jars of Sona Khaad demonstrates the closing of the loop of an ecological cycle, “returning to nature what is natural”.
Staff at the Akola Zilla Parishad initiated the work on the project on September 21 after they received the request for the bottles of manure via mail the previous afternoon. “One big challenge was identifying toilets that had been built some time back, where a pit would have been sealed for about a year,” the Express quoted said Akola Zilla Parishad CEO Ayush Prasad.
Process of emptying toilet pits
The team did not have any list of toilets with date of construction. The officers then decided to send out a squad in a car, equipped with shovels and other implements. Over the first two days of scouting, the team did not found suitable toilet, but eventually, they got lucky after they came across a toilet in the home of a woman in her 80s which was built in 2014.
The team gradually to start looking for toilets built under the sanitation projects of the previous government, including the Gadge Baba Gram Swachhata Abhiyaan and the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan of the UPA era. The report added that about 45 toilet pits were opened, but of which only 26 had manure while the others had waste that was still decomposing. Prasad told the daily that the team had to be particularly careful in selecting which pits to empty — emptying out a pit with waste that is not yet decomposed would amount to manual scavenging.
Sanitation consultant with UNICEF, Jayant Deshpande told the daily that out of the 10 crore toilets under SBM, at least about 6.5 crore are twin pit toilets. When used by an average Indian family, a pit gets filled up every six to seven years. Upon being sealed, faecal matter that comprises 80 per cent water undergoes anaerobic decomposition with the water draining out, each pit yielding on average 60 kg to 70 kg of manure. By that math, about 1 crore toilets may be available to be emptied every year, yielding in total about 60 lakh quintals of manure.
“In addition, the toilets themselves get some maintenance, and there is rural employment generated in emptying the pits and making the manure available,” Deshpande added.
Label of the Jar
For the Gandhi Jayanti function on October 2, the Akola Zila Parishad used skills of an in-house IT engineer’s Clipart to design a label with a logo depicting the shape of the Indian squatting toilet and maize growing around the pit.
The process of making and using Sona Khaad has been decribed in the lable for the convenience of the users. The glass jars, similar to those used to pack ghee or pickle, were procured from Vadodara in Gujarat; packaging was designed locally with the ‘Maha Sona Khaad’ branding and the total project cost kept at approximately Rs 3 lakh — the manure was free, the main costs were the bottles, packaging and transportation.
The collected manure was spread on mats in a dilapidated complex in Akola where it was dried using fans and halogen lights as rains in the region continued. In all, 10,240 jars were packed into cartons and dispatched in a truck.
“Mahasona Khaad is evidence of a cleaner India, achieved by millions of its poor citizens. It contains decomposed material that may have otherwise caused diarrhoea and killed millions of children. These bottles show that the value chain of sanitation is now complete,” the report quoted Prasad.