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While there have been several national attempts to identify the people who remove night soil by hand so that they can be eventually rehabilitated, no such effort has been made to track sanitation workers who may be forced to enter sewers as part of their work. Photo: AFP
While there have been several national attempts to identify the people who remove night soil by hand so that they can be eventually rehabilitated, no such effort has been made to track sanitation workers who may be forced to enter sewers as part of their work. Photo: AFP

How to prevent human entry into sewers? Govt launches technology challenge

Elimination of human entry into sewer drains and septic tanks is the ultimate goal of this technology challenge

New Delhi: In an effort to identify workable solutions that can end the unsafe and life-threatening practice of human beings entering sewers and septic tanks to rectify blockages, the urban affairs ministry has initiated a technology challenge.

Submissions are being invited from individuals, companies, as well as NGOs and a jury of technical experts, will soon be constituted to select the best proposals, said a senior ministry official on condition of anonymity. “The jury will have members from IITs, NGOs and other experts. The best proposals will be shared with municipal bodies across the country," the official said. The window for submission will remain open till 14 August and the winners are expected to be announced at the Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention to be held on 2 October.

“Elimination of human entry into sewer drains and septic tanks is the ultimate goal of this challenge," said urban affairs ministry spokesperson Rajeev Jain. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently flagged the need to identify appropriate technologies to avoid human intervention in the cleaning of sewers and septic tanks in the country and the ministry announced the challenge in response, Jain said. “This is an issue that has been bothering the ministry for a long time," he added.

While there have been several national attempts to identify the people who remove night soil by hand so that they can be eventually rehabilitated, no such effort has been made to track sanitation workers who may be forced to enter sewers as part of their work. As a result, experts and Dalit organisations have been critical of the Swachh Bharat Mission’s lack of focus on the plight of those who have to ultimately handle the burden of all the new toilets being built across the country.

According to the 2011 census, there were more than 2 million toilets in the country which had to either be serviced manually or disposed waste into open drains.

The proposals that the urban affairs ministry will consider will be evaluated on a set of broad criteria like the operational effectiveness of the technology, the life of machinery, ease of use, Made in India, environmental sustainability, etc.

The winners would be eligible for a token monetary reward of between Rs1-5 lakh and the ministry may eventually recommend cities under Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (Amrut) to adopt the identified solutions.

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