Putting faecal sludge management on track

The cost and revenue projections for both on-demand and scheduled desludging scenarios were elaborated upon in the faecal sludge management plan for Dhen­kanal Municipality.
Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant at Dhenkanal, Odisha
Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant at Dhenkanal, Odisha

To fully leverage the health, well-being and environmental benefits of improved sani­tation access provision of safe, economical and sustainable emptying, transportation and treat­ment facilities for faecal waste become impera­tive. Managing faecal sludge from on-site sanitation systems is vital, especially since one vacuum truck dumping sludge indiscriminately is equivalent to the open defecation of 5000 people (Kone et al. 2007).

The treatment of faecal sludge must be un­dertaken as close to the source as possible and it should be based on environmentally sustainable technologies that require low power and other inputs. Strategies that ensure reuse of all prod­ucts and by-products of treated faecal sludge must be integrated to make the system sustain­able and cost-effective.

A baseline survey, conducted as a part of Proj­ect Nirmal in Angul and Dhenkanal points to inadequacies in the existing manage­ment of faecal sludge. It reveals that different components of the FSM value chain, namely, user interface, containment, transportation, treatment and reuse were either completely absent or were being inappropriately addressed.



Planning for periodic Operation and Maintenance (O&M) of desludging truck operations and Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP)

To address the existing inadequacies in the FSM value chain, specific interventions were required to be implemented in both towns, in a time-bound manner. Under the ambit of Project Nirmal, an FSM Plan was prepared in May 2018 with support from Consortium for DEWATS Dissemination (CDD) Society, Bengaluru.

The FSM plan was based on the findings of the baseline survey undertaken in the initial stages of Project Nirmal and pres­ents details on the periodic O&M requirements for desludging trucks as well as FSTPs. The FSM plan presents the operating costs, potential rev­enue sources and five business models for faecal sludge desludging trucks and FSTPs.

Operating Costs

There are two main categories of operating costs for an FSM system, namely,

a. Cost of operating the desludging trucks along with a customer service centre; and

b. Cost of operating the FSTP

The cost projections in the FSM Plan have been­ worked out for a 10-year period for three trucks. Two scenarios for desludging namely, on-demand and scheduled desludging services were considered.

On Demand Desludging Services: Pits/septic tanks are emptied only when the household places a request with the Municipality, and fees are paid either just before or when the service is provided. As pits and tanks are often very large and need to be cleaned infrequently (sometimes every 6-20 years), the frequency of truck trips is very low which reduces productivity and raises the per-trip cost.

Scheduled Desludging Services: All pits/septic tanks are emptied on a fixed schedule, typically every 2-4 years depending on local conditions such as pit size, groundwater level, soil conditions, etc. A schedule is developed either by the ULB or the service provider and households are charged a nominal amount every year for this regular cleaning service.

The operating costs for desludging trucks in­clude five components namely, pump maintenance/repair, engine maintenance, truck operations, technology/Global Positioning Sys­tem (GPS) integration and operations of a call/customer service centre.

Operating costs for desludging trucks based on two scenarios – On-demand and scheduled (Rs. In lakhs)

The operating costs for FSTP include costs relat­ing to human resources, operational activities, scheduled maintenance activities and replace­ment of parts and machinery.

Revenue Sources

Identifying possible revenue sources was consid­ered important for reducing cost for government agencies and to help make FSM services sustain­able. 4Ts – Taxes, Tariff, Trade and Transfers were evaluated to assess potential revenue sources for the towns. Based on the evaluation exercise a set of six revenue sources were identified for on-de­mand and scheduled desludging services. These include - revenue from the user fee for pit and septic tank cleaning for both residential and commercial units, revenue from the sale of treated dry sludge, rev­enue from the additional pit or septic tank emptying services, revenue from registration of private de­sludging operators and revenue from the collection of tipping fee at the FSTP. 

Cost and revenue projections for both on-demand and scheduled scenarios were elaborated upon in the FSM plan. Scheduled desludging services show a steadier cash flow as compared to on-de­mand desludging services. Revenue generation from septic tank/pit emptying is higher and shows better cost recovery in scheduled desludg­ing scenario over a short period.

Revenue sources evaluated by the FSM Plan – Dhenkanal

  • R1. Revenue from the user fee for pit/septic tank emptying services (Residential units)
  • R2. Revenue from the user fee for pit/septic tank emptying (Commercial units)
  • R3. Revenue from the sale of treated dry sludge
  • R4. Revenue from additional open pit/septic tank emptying services (includes breaking open the systems)
  • R5. Revenue from registration of private desludg­ing operators
  • R6. Revenue from the collection of tipping fee at the FSTP

Business Models

The FSM Plan presents five business models, of which Angul and Dhenkanal Municipalities could choose a suitable option based on the current san­itation/FSM situation in their town. The suggested business models have been developed with the following objectives: (a) to minimise the liability to the government and increased finan­cial sustainability, (b) incentivising private players to provide services, and (c) ensuring that the local government plays the role of a regulator for deliv­ering holistic sanitation intervention.

The five business models include -

  • the operations of the desludging trucks and the FSTP are to be operated by a single private operator, the operator would be paid for the full cost of services by the ULB and all revenue generated would be transferred to the ULB;
  • the operations of the desludging trucks and FSTP would be operated by a single private operator, ULB would pay the private operator a part of the cost of the services (from the reve­nue streams R5 and R6), all revenue generated from services (R1 to R 4) would be retained by the private operator;
  • operations of desludging trucks and FSTP would be operated by a single private operator, revenue for the private operator would be only from services (R1 to R4) and no payment will be made to the private operator by the ULB, ULB will retain the revenue generated from R5 and R6;
  • while the desludging trucks would be operat­ed by a private operator the ULB would operate the FSTP, the private operator would generate revenue from the services provided (R1, R2 and R4) and no payment will be made to the private operator by the ULB, the ULB will earn revenue from the FSTP(R3, R5 and R6); and
  • there would be two private operators, while one operator would manage the operations of the desludging trucks the other would operate the FSTP, the revenue for both operators is in the form of payment for services and no pay­ment is made to the private operators by the ULB.

Selection of Business Model in Dhen­kanal

The District Coordination Committee (DCC) (a coordination mechanism that has been estab­lished as a part of the project monitoring struc­ture under Project Nirmal) deliberated upon the various business models and selected Model 1 as suitable for Dhenkanal Municipality. Practical Action Foundation (PAF) has been entrusted with the responsibility of managing the operations of the desludging services along with FSTP by engag­ing a private operator, Blue Water Company, as a part of its handholding support to the Dhenk­anal Municipality under Project Nirmal.

Lessons Learnt

A scientific and thorough approach to plan­ning the O&M of FSM services has been adopted in Dhenkanal (and subsequently Angul) as a part of Project Nirmal. This ap­proach has enabled a rigorous analysis of the various operational costs as well as potential sources of revenue for O&M of desludging services and FSTP and the development of various business models.

The engagement of agencies which had prior experience of operating and managing FSM services/FSTPs in the preparation of FSM plan under Project Nirmal has ensured that the learnings in the sector from other locations have been meaningfully integrated.

The engagement of key district and local gov­ernment agencies, including the DCC and the Dhenk­anal Municipality, in the process of selection of an appropriate business model for Dhen­kanal Municipality, has ensured a high level of ownership of the selected model among lo­cal leadership.

The partnership between the ULB (Dhenkanal Municipality) and the service provider (Prac­tical Action Foundation, through Blue Water Company) was formalised through an agree­ment. The agreement was comprehensive and details out the roles and responsibilities of the two actors (PAF and Dhenkanal Municipality), the process for receiving, routing and attend­ing to customer requests, mechanisms for cus­tomer interface, fees and charges for desludging services, creation of FSM fund, specifications for drivers and helpers and a set of record-keeping and safety protocols to be followed by the oper­ator. The detailed agreement ensured that the terms and conditions of the partnership were clearly articulated, presented and understood by both parties, leaving no scope for any ambiguity.

The O&M plan considered two scenarios name­ly, on-demand and scheduled desludging. While the financial modelling showed that scheduled desludging services would result in steadier cash flow and higher cost recovery (due to higher revenue generation from the septic tank/pit emptying) the DCC and Dhenkanal Municipality decided to implement on-de­mand desludging recognising that most of the existing containment structures are large and need infrequent desludging and consumers aren’t habituated to frequent desludging. How­ever, to test scheduled desludging, the FSM service agreement provides that, PAF will pilot a methodological scheduled emptying process in some wards of Dhenkanal to test its feasibility for future implementation.


The project was completed in 2020 and was implemented by Centre for Policy Research and Practical Action with support from Bill and Melinda Gates FoundationArghyamHousing and Urban Development, Government of Odisha; and Municipalities of Angul and Dhenkanal.

The article based on the research learning note 'Project Nirmal: Operation and Maintenance (O&M) Aspects Of Faecal Sludge Management In Small Towns’ is a part of the series demonstrating learning and outcomes of the Project Nirmal based on Scaling City Institution for India (SCI-FI)’s research on water and sanitation. More on the series: https://twitter.com/CPR_SCIFI

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