More people should use this zero sewage discharge toilet

The three-decade old 'Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet' doesn't pollute or need a septic tank or a sewage network. In fact, its output is a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used as a pesticide!
The team: Sanjay Joshi (left) and Ravindra Ganorkar (Source: Nivedita Khandekar)
The team: Sanjay Joshi (left) and Ravindra Ganorkar (Source: Nivedita Khandekar)

Toilets need a septic tank or a connection to a sewage network, enough water to clean and flush, and regular maintenance to ensure proper functioning--except if it's the 'Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet'. It looks just like a conventional toilet but needs none of these. Designed by someone with no formal degree in science, it even uses much lesser water when compared to the ones with a flush tank.

55 year old Sanjay Joshi, originally a small land holding farmer of Daryapur town in Amravati district, Maharashtra, developed this unique toilet which uses a bacterial culture to eliminate the need to dispose or treat human waste. In fact, its only output is a colourless, odourless nutrient-rich liquid that can be used as a pesticide! 

The man behind the game-changing idea

Thanks to his obsession about toilets, people started calling him ‘Sandas Joshi’ (In Marathi 'sandas' means toilet). 

Joshi had an inherent interest in science but poverty prevented him from pursuing a degree and he had to abandon his studies midway. But his sense of curiosity would not let him sit still. 

“I once saw a mistry (mason) building a septic tank and asked him about the two chambers. He was unaware and said that he was just doing a job. That made me think about the actual process of making toilets”, Joshi says. How many years will it work? How much can its capacity be? Will it stink? Will it need scavenging, especially manual scavenging? He read a lot of scientific material--in the 1980s pre-Internet, pre-Google days. In fact, at one point of time, it became difficult for him to find a bride as no father would agree to marry his daughter to a person who sold toilets for a living. 

After some time, he finally zeroed in on the successful formulation of the bacteria. 

The 'Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet' is born

Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet in the making (Source: Nivedita Khandekar)

The innovative toilet has a conventional toilet seat with a small size tank (2 x 2.25 x 2.25 cuft). The tank design is configured to attain highly efficient in-situ decomposition of excreta with the help of a patented bacterial culture. What remains as an output is a reusable liquid--basically a micro-nutrient--that can be used as fertilizer/pesticide spray.

“The work is done by this culture. To put it simply, this bacterial culture eats the human excreta, and the colourless, odourless water that we get is that bacteria’s excreta”, Joshi says. Also, unlike output from a urinal or open sewage, this by-product prevents flies and mosquito larva from breeding. Those who don’t want to use it as pesticide can either sell it or simply drain it away in conventional drains. A toilet seat from the market is added to the specifically built tank which has the trade secret culture inside after which the unit is ready for sale.

A winning duo

Joshi’s friend Ravindra Ganorkar, a large-scale land holding farmer and a social worker from the same village, joined him a few years ago. The duo experimented with the make of the toilet tank and the look in general. It is thanks to their research that the output liquid is being used as a pesticide. Joshi is the brain behind the concept while Ganorkar helps in the logistics and management. 

The first such toilet was installed almost 30 years ago. Earlier it was pretty difficult to convince people to use such a toilet. All it needed was one person from a village to start using it. Within months, Joshi would get orders for more toilets from the same village. Over the last three decades, Joshi has installed almost 12,000 such toilets across Amravati district and neighbouring areas. Publicity has been through word-of-mouth till date, which Joshi and Ganorkar now plan to change. 

Inspired by the Central Government’s Swachch Bharat Mission, the duo has decided to go big and expand. This toilet has been installed at about 50 government schools in Daryapur tehsil. The first toilet was sold for Rs 840. Today it costs Rs 6,000 for one unit with the tank and seat. Convincing people 30 years ago was an uphill task but by now, scores of people in the area know about his product, so getting orders is easier. "My only dream is to make open defecation free India a reality", says Joshi. 

Besides this, Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Rural Industrialisation, Wardha, has certified that the tank used is hygienic and suitable for low-cost latrine usage. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur has examined the tank output and certified that it is safe for human health. Panjabrao Krishi Vidyapeeth, Akola has certified that the output liquid has sufficient NPK contents and micro-nutrients to be used as organic pesticide. 

Happy and satisfied users

Kiran Jayantrao Deshmukh combined toilet with a bathing unit to save space, water (Source:Nivedita Khandekar)

Rajani and Rajesh Vasantrao Deshmukh from a nearby village Yevada, needed something compact for their small house. The couple, which has a four member family, installed this toilet about six years ago and since then has entertained guests during two marriages and one death. Another resident of the same village Kiran Jayantrao Deshmukh went in for this toilet about five years ago when she decided to re-construct her old house. “With the new house, I neither wanted a septic tank toilet which would need more space, nor a paver-block toilet which would need manual scavenging”, Kiran said as she proudly showed the combined toilet-bathroom in her compact courtyard.

Savita and her husband Uddhav Sadashivrao Hirulkar from the same village, installed one unit 19 years ago. Their kitchen and pooja ghar is about 5 feet away from the toilet beyond a half-wall/half-grill partition. “There is no smell whatsoever even though we cook our food close by. The best part is that there is no need of manual scavenging”, says Savita. Vouching for the efficiency of this toilet, Uddhav says, “We are a large family with regular flow of relatives and friends coming over. I got three of my daughters married from this home and we always had some 30-40 guests at a time. This toilet has worked perfectly all those times”. 

Savings, savings and more savings

Farmers who used the liquid output as pesticide claim their output has increased by at least 20-25 % (Source: Nivedita Khandekar)

The advantages are innumerable. The use of the output liquid as pesticide spray, both before sowing and mid-crop cycle, reduces use of chemical fertilizers by 25%, the duo claim. When the toilet seat is fixed on the tank, there is no P-trap (it is a u-shaped or s-shaped plumbing arrangement that prevents odorous gas from drains/sewers from rising up through the toilet, sink or drains into homes). “Because we have done away with the P-trap and introduced a sloping smooth tile instead, very less water is needed. As against 12-16 litres of water needed during one flush in modern toilets, this uses just 5-6 litres of water,” Joshi adds. The team has provided a pipe for gas escape instead.

Open Defecation Free villages under Swachch Bharat Mission

Main advantages:

  • No solid waste output
  • Only colourless, odourless liquid output
  • Needs barely 5-6 l of water  
  • No need of sewer network
  • No need of septic tank, soak pit etc
  • Prevents water contamination in any form
  • Saves infrastructure cost for sewage network and treatment cost
  • Output liquid can be used as pesticide spray
  • Hygienic conditions prevents diseases
  • Can be used as public toilet catering to 250 people/day
  • Can be used in all terrains  

Satish Shankarrao Sakhare, sarpanch of Maholi (Dhande) Grampanchayat has stepped in to bridge the gap. Among the 3,000 people of Maholi, there are about 350 households that do not have a toilet. A model of the Gramkranti Eco Bio toilet unit with a fabricated room-roof cover has been kept right outside the Grampanchayat building for prospective users to see. “We have decided to make our village ‘Open Defecation Free’ by December 2015. We will install the Gramkranti Eco Bio Toilet in all these houses. The government has already sanctioned Rs 12,000 per dwelling”, Sakhare says.

The government has identified 11 of the 115 villages in Daryapur tehsil under the Swachch Bharat Mission. Joshi-Ganorkar duo sells the tank-and-seat installation for about Rs 6000 plus transportation cost. The user needs to build a room over it. Certain experiments – as one model installed in front of Maholi Panchayat office – have been estimated to cost Rs 17,000. But despite the seemingly prohibitive cost for small land owners, their toilet has found takers. “There is lot of willingness to use a toilet,” Joshi adds.

But it is not only the Panchayat office bearers who have taken it upon themselves to contribute towards Open Defecation Free villages, but also other individuals. Pramod Joshi, a restaurant owner, and his family members are inspired citizens. When Pramod’s grandmother died about three months ago this year, it had rained heavily. “The route towards the smashaan (funeral place) went from near the godhari (designated open defecation place of the village). Pouring rain had already made the area muddy, slippery and the stretch near the godhari was stinking afresh after the rains. “I felt too bad that day. I thought, a person has to undergo this painful open defecation while alive but even when dead, he/she is not free from this trouble. There and then, I decided to help people build toilets and make my village Open Defecation Free”, Pramod says.

He had already known about the Gramkranti Eco Bio Toilet. Soon he paid for several units of these toilets. His family members too were inspired and started contributing. Till now, the family has helped build 50-odd toilets in the three months since. “There are about 500 houses in our village (population 10,000 approximately). We have decided to make our village Open Defecation Free by my grandmother’s barsi (first death anniversary),” he added. 

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental, developmental and climate change issues. She can be reached @nivedita_Him on Twitter.

View more pictures of the Gramkranti Eco Bio Toilet.

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