Clean and Green – Is it a Difficult Choice Between Discipline and Laissez-faire?

NO

A recent visit to China, a country home to 1.4 Billion people, the highest in any single nation, was an eye opener. Its Peoples Republic of China. People are at the core of everything they do, perhaps like all other countries. They have enough and more history to talk about – probably as much as India. Its evolution however is unique – in every way. Whatever the argument against China’s governance, the results are awesome! Its CLEAN & GREEN all around.

IMG-20151124-WA0015You can see me in the picture on the left at the Great Wall of China. I had the pleasure of writing about my love without a care about defacing the wall. Some smart guy had put up a large graffiti style paper for people to write their heart out.

Is it rocket science or plain, simple innovation at work?

You decide.

 

 

WP_20151023_086Our Chinese English speaking guide to Beijing’s Forbidden City told us that the tourist area including the famous Tiananmen Square receives thousands of visitors every day from all of China and abroad, so much so that its difficult to walk inside the monuments.  But it was hard to see any solid waste ANYWHERE.

The innocent and rustic Chinese people from upcountry form the majority of visitors. They are most likely not inducted into ways of modern ways of urban housekeeping etc, but they don’t litter. Public toilets are plenty and surprisingly clean and usable.WP_20151025_003Market streets are clean and you cannot find even a cigarette stubble or a plastic bag because regularly the local “Safaiwalas”- probably paid on time as against his Delhi counterpart, is always on the prawl on his rickshaw picking up anything that he/she sees on the walkways.

Discipline is seen, felt and celebrated.

Now picture India’s capital Delhi – the lesser said the better. People are free to do whatever and we end up with the Chief Minster pleading on FM radio that he is on a mission to clean Delhi with the help of citizens and has some mega plan under his (very long) sleeve. Somehow he has got all stakeholders together  – the MCD, the Union Urban Development Ministry and LG to talk “Swachh”. He wants everyone to click ugly pictures of muck that one sees and send it to his administration and he would have it cleaned. Okay, lets believe that he will do it by December 1st 2015. So what’s next.

Its like building toilets and not using it – Today’s TOI’s editorial raises the same issue I raised in my blog post in August – http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/toi-editorials/toilet-trouble-nsso-survey-shows-mere-construction-of-toilets-is-not-enough-they-must-be-usable-too/.

Even if our Ginnie – Mr Kejriwal gets all of Delhi cleaned up which is unbelievable – how do we change our notorious behavior – that of throwing everything on the streets in the belief that someone will take care of it – like MAGIC.

garbageThe answer lies is in Singaporean style DISCIPLINE… Make sure that the cameras our CM had promised to install all over Delhi to ensure our women’s safety are installed and besides looking for suspicious characters (potential sex offenders) they also look for “Solid Waste Offenders” and ensure befitting punishment to them too. Mr CM can address all on radio saying – if you litter, be ready to pay up initially and also be ready to double up as “Safaiwala” if the “crime” is repeated.

So what do you say. A disciplined Delhi or free for all.

Isn’t the answer obvious.

 

Toilet Toilet Everywhere No One To Use

More than 53 percent of Indian homes — about 70 percent in the villages — lack toilets.

In response to this colossal deficit, PM Modi’s  government has built more than 5.8 million toilets last year— up from 4.9 million the previous year. His independence day speech this year on August 15th 2015 reaffirmed his resolve to build even more this year.Way to go, Modi Ji!

The picture here below paints a different picture – Some people who have been ceremoniously gifted a toilet DO NOT WANT IT.  “We never asked for a toilet. Now we are stuck with it,” said Natholi, 22, as he opened the squat toilet to show that it has not been used. His 62-year-old father peered in and shook his head. “Having a toilet so close to the house is not a good idea.

IndiaToilet11433269150

The pit is too small; it will fill up quickly. I don’t want the bother of cleaning it up frequently. Going out to the open field is healthier. The open breeze outside is better than sitting inside this tiny room.” (Source Washington Post).

Well there are multiple issues related here such as women’s safety, pit-cleaning mechanization, water related health issues etc that could be debated. However I would like to draw your attention to  two issues

  1. Cultural baggage and therefore slow adaption to change by people who have not used toilets for generations
  2. Our collective inability to find cost effective, innovative and sustainable solution to induce continued usage

My dear old friend Navin Bhatia introduced me to Swedish toilet solution which I am putting here for you to see and comment as an answer to point number 2:-

THE FUTURE OF SUSTAINABLE SANITATION

The Need

India has 16% of the world’s population but only 4% of the world’s freshwater at its disposal. This well-known fact has some alarming consequences, given our current practices. It is rightly said that yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems. The Water Closet toilet, patented in 1778, is one such solution. During the 1800s, having toilets and sewer systems that could control human waste became a priority to lawmakers, medical experts, inventors, and the general public to prevent diseases. Without plumbed sanitation within the home to dispose of human waste, we would still be living in a brutal age of cholera, dysentery, typhus and typhoid fever—to say nothing of bubonic plague.

However, today, these WCs are leading to multiple problems ranging from excessive water wastage, water pollution to energy wastage in sewage treatment, groundwater contamination etc. Humans produce on an average only 50 L of feces and 500 L of urine per year. A normal flush toilet uses an additional 15,000 L of drinking water per person per year to flush it out of the house. This water, rendered useless by the pathogens contained in the excreta is mixed with grey-water (from cleaning), liquid toxic waste from industries to form sewage. India has installed sewage treatment capacity for just 27.8 % of total sewage generation. Therefore, most of the untreated sewage pollutes rivers, contaminates groundwater and leads to environmental degradation.

India, with its 620 million people still defecating in the open, needs an environment friendly sanitation solution that is able to alleviate the risks and challenges associated with the present day models and can efficiently be scaled to the different parts of the country. Enclosed Long Term Composting (ELTC) Toilets offer one such solution.

How does Long term composting toilet work?

A composting toilet is a dry toilet that uses a predominantly aerobic processing system that treats excreta, typically with no water or small volumes of flush water, via composting or managed aerobic decomposition. It consists of two chambers separated by a starter bed which separates the urine from the feces. This started bed is usually made of sawdust, coconut coir or peat moss to support aerobic processing, absorb liquids, and to mitigate odor.

Human feces consist mostly of organic matter and water. Composting toilets greatly reduce the volume of excreta on site through mesophilic composting such that after 6 years only 2% of the original volume is left.

In the composting toilet, the urine undergoes a process called “Nitrification” in which the ammonia gets converted to nitrates and nitrites. This makes the urine usable as a liquid, natural fertilizer which can be used. It is completely odor-free and does not have microbial contamination.

Benefits of ELTC toilets

  1. No scavenging – It isolates feces with its disease causing potential bacteria, virus and parasites for up to 40 years. In this way it supersedes the two-pit leach model which needs to be emptied after every 2 years and has a leaching risk.
  2. Does not contribute to sewage and hence does not cause any water pollution.   This also saves the energy and cost incurred in transport of waste and sewage treatment as required in Septic Tanks.
  3. Saves water. Only 1 liter of self cleansing water is required.
  4. Closes the Bio–cycle from Nature to Nature as it yields a clean, concentrated, safe-to-use, odor-free liquid fertilizer and puts both macro- and micro-nutrients back into the soil.
  5. Odor-free as the biodigester has a ventilation pipe used for aerobic composting. This is an advantage that these toilets have over the DRDO biodigesters that use anaerobic bacteria for decomposition.
  6. Comfortable to use as compared to the Ecosan toilets which require the user to urinate, defecate and cleanse in three different holes.
  7. Suitable for any geographical terrain.
  8. Requires little maintenance. It can be cleaned with only a little quantity of water.
  9. The filtered liquid is a very rich fertilizer and tests have been done in India where a family of 4 can save rs 13500 per year on fertilizer
  10. Pilot projects have been done in City of Faridabad (Near Delhi) , State of Bihar (Eastern Part of India) and now in State of Rajasthan (North Western Part of India) since 2010

The Way Forward for Schools and Public toilets – Please see One Good Option for details.

Well believe me it was pretty simple for me to put this document for you to see, appreciate and if possible educate people who matter. However its quite a shot gun approach that may not yield much.Therefore I would continue to engage with the issue and come up with more viable options and evidence of its application. Would you join me in this search. You are welcome. Do let me know what you found or initiated and inspired.

If we look around we will see that there are many a great minds working on the issue. Have you seen this? Bill & Melinda Gates in their various visits to India and other 3rd world countries found this a worthy mammoth problem to engage with and therefore started the – REINVENT THE TOILET CHALLENGE. You can see details at http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/Global-Development/Reinvent-the-Toilet-Challenge and participate if you will.

What do I propose to do – Engage with the first point I raised about the culture of using an enclosed toilet instead of a field or open space as a matter of choice. I am promoting a venture to help people discover the benefits using a toilet – to begin with the metropolis of Delhi – Gurgaon – Noida – Faridabad (or simply put the National Capital Region).

I am soliciting ideas from you to do this most effectively. I would love to welcome any suggestions that you may have. I promise to put them together and build out a time bound action plan around it on this blog.

Waiting for your response!!

 

EMT = Early Morning Toilet

Dear Friends,

To my horror I encountered a strange feeling this morning when I read the news item about a 17 year old girl who took the extreme step of taking her own life by hanging when she was refused to have the comfort of an enclosed toilet at home in the backward – Jharkhand state of India, on a plea that the family was saving some money for getting her married. This feeling gave me a high on having identified “a great subject” to write here. I was filled with disgust when my insensitivity towards the life, dreams and aspirations of this young girl was staring right in my face. You would need to see the video in the link and the news item “Refused toilet at home, class 12 student allegedly commits suicide http://t.co/m1gLxNxYu8 http://t.co/sAv5zEk7oY” to appreciate what a “show off” I am. I, along with all fellow male Indians hang my head in shame for not being able to provide her “hope” of a basic daily need.

Graph on world access to sanitation.

I was reading through the findings of a new report called “socio economic and caste census”that discovered more than 50% of India is poor, around the same percentage of population that do not have access to toilets. The survey used a unique “inclusion” – “exclusion” principle to categorize the ones who will receive sops from the Government – probably some support to build a toilet.  Its funny how people place a mobile phone, socially acceptable education, marriage plans, refrigerator, personal transport, TV etc before a basic toilet.

If we were to transcend the statistics and see the plight in the lives of toilet users especially females in our country, the situation is depressing. Mostly we conveniently forget to provide a separate toilet to female users in most public places. A railway station I visited recently was priding itself in keeping it clean and visually appealing. The authorities had however forgotten to mention that there was a ladies toilet nearby the one for Gents (see the signage saying its a Gents Toilet). This exclusive Ladies Toilet however, was closed and unusable.

WP_20150701_010WP_20150701_009While putting my priorities in order I am placing “Toilet for Ladies” as my first one. Whether its providing toilets to homes that do not have one or building public toilets, I will give special focus on the “weaker” sex.

I propose “early morning toilet” EMT program just like the popular MDM (Mid Day Meal) program of the Ministry of HRD in India to incentivize school attendance with one meal for the poor children. What I propose is that I will identify funds for building “Girls Toilets”  inside schools and encourage them to use it if they don’t have one at home. Critics may argue that its enough to build toilets in schools and the problem will take care of itself. Why link it to attendance? But I think that by providing girls with safe toilet in school just before school hours will provide them an option to respectfully relieve themselves before embarking upon their study schedules. It would require some detailed planning and incentive principles. But I am certain that its doable. The poor girl from Jharkhand would be alive with us today if we had provided her a safe (and possibly clean) toilet option in her school.

Are you going to advise me on which schools to target first? Where do you think I can get funds to do this?  Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Women & Child Development, Ministry of HRD, CSR funds of companies….???Who should I contact for construction and maintenance? NGOs?

Looking forward to your views….comments…brickbats

Ignorance is NOT bliss

Hello friends

While on this wonderful journey with you, I came across a wise comment by Former President of Czechoslovakia Václav Havel that captured my mood of the moment. He once said ‘The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less’. How very true.

Keeping our surroundings clean must be a very tough task for us in India as we simply do not imagine how it affects us adversely and therefore we happily create our own oasis for existence in our homes and enclosed housing complexes and never bother about the big picture. Its certainly not done.

I asked myself this question that before I resolved not to throw just about anything from a moving car (Promise #1 made on Day 1 of blogging), how did I behave. Pat came the answer, I was so accustomed to the muck on the roads and other public areas that I did not feel a thing while adding a very “little” more to it. What will it take for us as a nation to reach an inflection point where > critical number of people resolve not to wash their dirty linen in public (areas).

Happily the Government is at it and if all goes well “Swachh India” will receive 3 times more funds than last year for construction of toilets and for providing drinking water straight from the Finance Ministry’s federal budget. See  http://www.wikinewsindia.com/english-news/thetimesofindia/india-timeofindia/swachh-bharat-may-prompt-finmin-to-treble-sanitation-ministrys-allocation/, for details.

One of the key Government Ministries, Indian Railways seems to have caught the bull by the horn. When I recently visited a small New Delhi railway station, it actually reminded me of the Railway Stations I had seen in Europe or at Konkan Railways (Mumbai – Goa – Mangalore Line in India). I found it impeccably clean. I am not joking. Here’s evidence.    WP_20150701_004 WP_20150701_005

This is the Safdarjung Railway Station in South Delhi which receives lots of local EMU trains and also 2 long distance ones. This mystery would have remained if I had not seen a long distance train halt at this station packed with passengers in every conceivable fashion. Suddenly from somewhere a multitude of vendors descended at this station with eatables and other interesting things to service the passengers. Soon after littering started all around. Since the long distance trains halt at this station only twice a week the “cleanliness” is restored by the efficient and hard working safai wallas soon after the plunder. It led me to believe that however much we may spend on the mission, unless we change our “mindset” towards the issue, it may make little or no impact.  WP_20150701_013

Hence I have resolved that whenever I go to any railway station next, I will carry a garbage bag (of reasonably large size) and devote 10 extra minutes or the waiting time to pick up any litter around and place it in the bins around, with the hope that the thought of littering will not cross my mind. This act also may encourage someone else too to do the same or at least not add to the litter we normally see at the Railway Stations.

What do you say to that?

In Gratitude

With wax statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Madam Tussad's

Hello friends!

Many thanks for your overwhelming response to my blog post “Breaking Inertia”. I am truly encouraged to gain momentum on this wonderful journey with all of you.

What you see above is the wax statue of Mahatma Gandhi with me at Madam Tussaud’s Hong Kong museum which I happened to visit early this month. He was also referred to as our “Father of the Nation (India)”. My guess is most of you would have heard of his ‘non-violent” ways to overcome seemingly insurmountable goals. Albert Einstein said of him, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” I for one was born long after he was gone in 1948, but his legacy just engulfs you completely. A fine film by Sir Richard Attenborogh called “Gandhi” starring Ben Kingsley in the role enlivened his super persona for the world. His writings, memorabilia et al make a great case for inspiration. I would rate him as a very honest, honorable man who was more human than most of us. At least me.

His birthday October 2nd 2014 marked the date of launch of mission “Swachh Bharat” or Clean India, flagged off by Indian premier Modi. Since he brought the issue right in the center of everything, many people have decided to partake in accomplishing the mission of completely cleaning up India by the time we celebrate Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in 2019. What we will be able to achieve is yet to be seen, but its a great start.

Two news items I saw today relating to the subject today. One was titled “Acting local is key to toilets for all”  and the other “At New Delhi stn, loos on all platforms“.

Its heartening to see that we are still at it at the macro level, creating cost efficient toilet infrastructure and working on policy that defines roles at all levels especially at delivery points, and dedicate funds for sanitation.

Now coming back to promises I have been making since I started writing this blog the day before. One of the first day promise of respecting the “safai wala” still occupies my mind but frankly I have no incident to report, however much I may want to. I did see some of them today working as usual in my colony, but their apparent nonchalant behavior didn’t encourage me enough to engage with them. I will keep trying though since its so important to engage deeply with those whose job is to keep our environment clean.

Also about the 4 actions I decided for myself yesterday. I haven’t started yet, but will report progress soon.

Keep writing in…

Breaking Inertia

The toughest part of starting up on a new journey is one’s own self limiting beliefs.  I am no different. While I announced to all of us that I am on way to mission – Clean Evolution yesterday, a number of forces started pulling me towards no action. Its easiest NOT to do anything.

Freedom bronze sculpture by Zenos Frudakis in front of GSK office in Philadelphia

Freedom bronze sculpture by Zenos Frudakis in front of GSK office in Philadelphia.

Well, I am trying to break this inertia. But unless I receive some positive strokes soon, I might lose steam.

The three tasks I gave myself yesterday seemed quite easy. Especially the second one which was a promise to greet and acknowledge whoever is working towards cleaning our environment. I found it most difficult. The other two weren’t too difficult. I live in a fairly well maintained colony in Gurgaon near Delhi and I did come across a number of broom wielding persons cleaning our roads, and other common areas in our barricaded colony. On morning walk today with my wife, I was greeted by almost all the guards whom we passed by, and I was enthusiastically responding to each one of them. When it came to the safai wala, he did not respond to my “Good Morning” greetings as if he didn’t care. Probably it was because he isn’t trained. Or worse still he is not supposed to “interact” with the sahibs. Or he feels he is doing all our dirty work and we are privileged to enjoy higher level activities – and therefore he has some deep rooted grudge against us. Whatever be the reason I wasn’t able to connect. I promise, I will keep trying and report.

This Swachh Bharat mission is huge and different things to different people.

For instance, for a slum dweller it’s the right to safely visit a loo. An article my wife forwarded to me this morning substantiates this – Women in slums forced to defecate in open, say community toilets are unsafe at night http://a.msn.com/r/2/AAcepZE?a=1&m=EN-IN Do you recall the loo you would have seen in the Oscar winning movie “Slumdog Millionaire”? Seems like providing a clean toilet to a slum dweller on a regular basis is an uphill task. Well, whether its Hollywood Star Matt Demon supported global NGO http://water.org/ making a noise about clean drinking water and toilets or our very own Vidya Balan talking about role models like Priyanka Bharti who refused a marriage alliance for want of a toilet at home, the problem seems BIG & GRAVE and needs all of us to get involved.

When I was bitten by this “Toilet Mission” bug a decade ago, I decided to do something. I was told Bindershwar Pathak of Sulabh is a egotistic one track mind and will not be open to new ideas and a good guy to work with is Fuad Lokhandwala who was supposedly fired by a “mission” to create Fumes International. It was said of him –

Fuad’s life has run a zig zag course. Born affluent, he grew up lonely and determined to make it on his own. “My marriage to Mehru was the turning point in my life. She was 18 and I, 20. Through her I came to know –and to deeply admire– her family, especially her father, R H Chisti, IAS. He was by inclination a saintly man. That he was a direct descendant of the Khwaja, Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer probably explains that. Through Mehru too I have Sanaa, my daughter and my passion. And now I have this mission. I ascribe all I have achieved to Mehru,” he says dreamily.

An affluent man, a happy, family man, Fuad could have done tens of other things with his time. But India got lucky because Jay Leno made smoke come out of Fuad’s ears. By the way, was that why he called his company Fumes? “Naaw,” he drawls with a wink. “It stands for FUad, MEhru and Sanaa.”

I met him several times at his south Delhi residence and at IIC Delhi with a reference of a friend who worked for Indian Railways with an intent to do something meaningful together. He had by that time set up some nice clean toilets in Delhi including the ones at Lodi Gardens, Janpath and the Airport. Somehow he had convinced Ms Sheila Dixit the then CM of Delhi to push some serious money in its construction with recovery though pay per use and ad revenues. He seemed a proud and committed man. Unfortunately we could not figure out how to make it work on a large scale because of its prohibitive investments and lack of prudent scalability. I have lost track of him ever since. I have also forgotten what we discussed. I am also not too sure whether he is still as ‘missionery” as he seemed at the time (2005-6). Will try to invite him to this blog to contribute.

PM Modi’s call “Swachh India” reignited my fire and here I am writing about it long after the announcement’s initial euphoria we witnessed in October 2014.

I have a few ideas about what I should be doing to keep my surroundings clean, crazy as they may be –

  1. I create a toilet cleaning set complete with all the liquids and brooms etc and put it in my car. Visit at least one Government school or a Government Institution in a month and completely clean its public toilet meant for students especially girls.
  2. Buy and distribute car “dust bin” to all my friends. I heard someone was in this business in Gurgaon after Swachh India announcements.
  3. Buy jute bags and distribute to friends so that they can shun plastic bags when shopping.
  4. Support NGOs working in this area.

Looking forward to your ideas. Join  in the bandwagon… I am waiting…

On a mission

Encouraged by my dear wife Monika and son Pranay, I am embarking upon a new vehicle – this blog site to share my thoughts about caring for the world we live in, as regularly as I can.

The area that represents my “inner voice” is clean evolution – I must certainly and surely work in this area till the time I actively can. As we evolve through thought – personal action- habit – noticeable event cycle towards formation of our exterior self, the life energy we bring in determines what ultimately evidences as our personality.

So far my efforts have been wanting but with encouragement from my family I have promised to start all over again with a promise that I will not leave the cycle mid way this time around.

Like most of us I associate with the mission “Swacch India” and “Skilled India” from amongst the various calls given by PM Modi to evolve us as a nation.

I am committing myself to set aside some time everyday to do something and report what I did in the direction of “clean evolution” with the hope that you my friends will also enlighten me about what you did similarly.

Some thoughts about what I intend to do today –

  1. Ensure I or any of my family members’ do not pee in open spaces but use a public toilet when we go out this evening.
  2. Acknowledge and show respect to the “safai wala” (those who clean our muck) and rummage boys/girls I may encounter today, as I would respect my mother, my dad, my boss or whoever I hold in very high esteem
  3. Not throw anything outside from my car but wait to drop all waste in a bin.

More tomorrow….

Thanks for reading.