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Human Waste Disposal in Bengaluru

‘It Has to Be Done Only at Night’

India’s National Urban Sanitation Policy and its flagship programme, the Swachh Bharat Mission, strongly recommend mechanical technologies for safe faecal sludge management. But, how do septic tank cleaners live and work, and why are their practices not “safe”? An evening spent in observation of their work and in conversation with cleaners and truck drivers in Bengaluru is recounted.

India’s National Urban Sanitation Policy (MoUD 2008) and its flagship programme, the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) (MoHUA 2017a), highlight the importance of latrine use and of “safe and proper disposal” of sewage for a sanitary city. They report that over a third of India’s urban households rely on on-site (not sewer-borne) sanitation;1 this is probably an underestimation. They recommend that cities should work towards technological, financing and governance initiatives that would ensure safe faecal sludge and septage management, while recognising that Indian cities are currently far from reaching this goal. These and other documents put out by the Government of India (see, for example, MoHUA [2017b]) give little indication of what mechanical (that is, truck-and-hose) sludge removal looks like, how cleaners live and work, and what therefore has to be modified or reformed as new policies are introduced. In other words, what is taking place now, in the name of faecal sludge management? This article describes an evening spent by one of the authors with septic tank cleaners and truck drivers in Bengaluru, India’s famed “Silicon Valley.” We present the rest of the article in C S Sharada Prasad’s voice, as he recalls the evening.

It is 10:30 pm on a chilly night in September 2014 in Bengaluru. “It has to be done only at night. The hotel does not want the neighbours or the guests to see this,” Santosh2 says in a soft voice. “It is a large, posh hotel. We service it once every two months.” Santosh owns a truck in which faecal sludge is removed from septic tanks and transported away to a sewage treatment plant (ideally, if the owner has a ­permit) or to open drains and water­bodies (commonly, as most owners do not have permits). He is not the driver. This evening the driver is Deepak; I am riding with him.

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Updated On : 29th May, 2018

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