As part of ongoing efforts to increase awareness and sensitize urban communities to the importance of fecal sludge and septage management (FSSM), Centre of Advocacy and Research held a knowledge camp with local councilors, municipal officials and community members of four urban local bodies in Kolkata in December 2017. Consultations had been held earlier with Kolkata Municipal Development Authority (KMDA) regarding fecal sludge management in the four ULBs, viz. Dumdum, South Dumdum, North Dumdum and Baranagar that are located along the Ganges. This had resulted in a proposal and sanction for a Fecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP).
The knowledge camp was primarily held to discuss the nitty-gritty of the sludge treatment plant and the importance of FSSM in the sanitation value chain. The key speaker at the camp, Dr. Arunabha Majumdar, Professor Emeritus, Jadavpur University explained the design of the integrated septage treatment facility as well as the concept of offsite and on-site excreta treatment and the available technology for constructing various kinds of toilets. Training of masons and monitoring during construction were also some of the prerequisites, he said. Mr. Tapabrata Bhowmik, Executive Engineer of KMDA, also addressed the gathering, describing the technology used in the proposed sludge treatment plant.
Improper discharge of faecal waste can lead to severe health problems in a community. This was underscored by Ms Sujaya Rathi, WSH expert (individual consultant) and NFSSM member. She also shared a documentary film on the successful implementation of the FSSM programme in Devanahalli and discussed the importance of community engagement in such projects.
The question-answer session threw up a number of doubts and suggestions. Mr Somnath Sarkar, CIC, North Dumdum Municipality pointed out that the amount sanctioned was not enough to build twin-pit latrines in the low-lying areas. It was suggested that subsidies could be tailored according to the type of land on which the toilets were to be constructed. Mr. K Sardar, Technical Advisor of Baranagar Municipality suggested that sanction for subsidies should be given only after the technical plan for toilet construction is approved, he said.
Mr. Goutam Banerjee, Assistant Engineer of Dumdum Municipality said land was scarce and therefore experts needed to specify the size and capacity of the septic tanks built at the household level. He also pointed that the proposed integrated FSTP would cover only a limited area of the ULBs. So, what about the parts that will be excluded from the plan, he asked.
Some of the participants expressed unhappiness over the current state of affairs where insanitary toilets and improper waste disposal seemed to be the norm and the municipality had no power to take action against them. All decisions in this regard were made by the political authorities who did not want to antagonize their vote bank, Mr. K. Sardar said. Mr. Tarak Tiwari, also an official of Baranagar Municipality said orientation workshops should be organized exclusively for political representatives for them to realize the importance of the issue.
It was evident that the participants from the four ULBs realized and appreciated the need for engaging with the local community in implementing of projects like the FSSM. CFAR also took note of Mr. Sardar suggestion that a pool of 10-15 people, technically trained in FSSM should be created and used to disseminate knowledge among others in a wider geographical area.