Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Siddhartha Mishra| The News Minute| November 17, 2014| 17.01 pm IST He’d come second in the Waislitz Global Citizen Award and with him operating out of my adopted home of Pune, I was very eager to pick Swapnil Chaturvedi’s brain. After an interaction, I was surprised to see someone called “Poop-guy” in my inbox. Its Swapnil’s business card, he unashamedly will call himself so. In March 2013, he founded Samagra Sanitation, a self-sustainable social enterprise, with the help of the Municipal Corporation in Pune. The novel initiative was born out of the need to tackle the problem of open defecation and the social stigma associated with “pooping”. For a nominal fee of Rs 50 to Rs 75 (according to the locality of operation) a family has access to the toilets for unlimited use by its members for a month and access to “LooRewards” that come with it. Swapnil elaborates: “We enable a member of community toilets to get access to rewards like savings on products and services”. While also adding, “We enable them to avail discounts on little things that help like sanitary napkins, biscuits, hand soap, tuition class and even ladoos”. LooRewards thus help making the experience more of a community exercise and their benefits cannot be disregarded. “If you use them, you end up saving more money than you pay for a toilet”, Swapnil reveals. His journey from the Bhilai Institute of Technology in Durg, Chhattisgarh to Northwestern University, Illinois and back to India for this project is a story in itself. Add to that failed projects in Raipur, Bhubaneshwar, Delhi and finally Bengaluru; he decided to give up. “If you talk about sustainable business models, we could go with a pay and use system like Sulabh International”, he says while adding, “for the urban poor it’s expensive”. For a family of five to pay Rs 2 per use every day at an average of two uses per day, the amount comes up just short of Rs 500. “We also replicated a model from Africa in Bhubaneshwar which generated electricity from excreta”, he recalls while also explaining why the project failed. “There were no takers for the energy generated from human waste”. The Delhi and Raipur projects were stuck in red tape and Chaturvedi decided for a final shot at Bangalore due to “its progressiveness”. The slum at Ejipura was picked as the location, and then razed to the ground after some “real-estate guys bought the land” and Swapnil thought of throwing the towel in. It’s then that a friend from Pune invited him there and Swapnil says, “Pune and Kolkata had a history of social activists. When you’re about to give up, something magical happens”. Finally they came up with the self-sustainable model currently in use at three urban slums: Ramnagar in Warje, Nehrunagar Vasahat and Shrawandhara. It’s pretty common for us men to zipper down and take a leak anywhere we deem fit but it’s not so simple for the fairer sex. Lack of adequate facilities may lead to urinary tract infections and out of 4,300 daily users, 2098 are females. “The social stigma associated with it has its own challenges but we’ve designed the toilets in ways so that the ventilation and light is proper and there are provisions for senior citizens”, explains Swapnil. Close to 600 million Indians are known to defecate in the open. With the help of the PMC (Pune Municipal Corporation), who “own all the facilities yet provide us with no revenue”. The operational partnership between the two organizations is 30 years. Shit happens. Can we all claim to do something about it? The “Poop-guy” from Pune certainly can.
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