New Delhi: Addressing a 20,000-strong crowd of supporters at the packed Madison Square Garden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 28 September vowed to put toilets before temples, a sentiment shared by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates.

While welcoming Modi’s initiative, Gates noted that it was “surprising when you think about all the innovation coming out of India, but 630 million people there defecate in the open because they don’t have access to a commode", in his blog on 7 October.

Affordable sanitation technologies will be key to the success of the government’s Clean India mission, which aims to put a toilet in every household and every school by 2019.

One such affordable sanitation technology, which is part of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge by the Indian government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is likely to play a key role in making toilets accessible across the country.

Kerala­-based Eram Scientific Solutions Pvt. Ltd is building self-sustained, modular, electronic toilets powered by solar energy for houses and communities. “The toilet also has an integrated mixed waste processing unit. The project couples a modern public toilet with an advanced on-site biological treatment system. The vision of the Gates Foundation was to have a system that is completely off the grid—that is, not dependent on water or electricity supply. This eToilet uses water thriftily. The commercial models, with options for recycling, will soon be available," said Bincy Baby, head of convergence business at Eram.

Currently, Eram caters mostly to municipal corporations and government departments, and has more than 600 eToilets installed in 11 states.

The toilets are stand-alone units. Inserting a coin opens the door and a light turns on. The user is even directed through voice commands. Water usage is also automated. Besides the 3 second pre-flush, toilets are programmed to flush 1.5 litres of water after 6 seconds of usage or 4.5 litres if usage is longer.

Nearly 48% of India’s urban population has no access to toilets, official data shows. In rural areas, the number stands at 60%. Close to 10% of the 1.1 million schools in India do not have toilets for girls. As a result, many girls leave school at an earlier age than boys.

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