“Uttar Pradesh has been steadily moving ahead in laying the foundations for faecal sludge and septage management infrastructure in its cities. A huge investment is being made in building treatment plants and systems. At this moment in time, it is important to step back, assess the progress, and initiate course correction measures if required,” said Sunita Narain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), at a workshop and meeting here today.
The meeting was organised jointly by CSE, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Government’s Department of Urban Development (DoUD), and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT). The meeting discussed the current state of faecal sludge and septage management (FSSM) systems and practices in Uttar Pradesh, the challenges faced by cities in managing urban sanitation, and what could be an effective roadmap for the future. A report titled Septage Management for City-wide Inclusive Sanitation in Uttar Pradesh was released on the occasion.
Besides Narain, the key speakers at the meeting included Amrit Abhijat, principal secretary, DoUD, Government of Uttar Pradesh; Neha Sharma, director, DoUD; P K Srivastava, additional mission director, AMRUT; and Depinder S Kapur, programme director, water and wastewater, CSE.
Connecting the concern of urban sanitation management to that of a clean Ganga, Narain said in her opening address: “All the efforts that we are making to clean our rivers will not succeed if we do not ensure affordable and effective sewage and septage management — Namami Gange needs it.”
The challenge of managing urban sanitation in Uttar Pradesh
Ninety-five per cent of UP’s cities and towns are totally dependent on non-sewered sanitation systems. Only 31 towns (out of the 734 in the state) have partial sewerage system coverage; together, they manage to treat just 40 per cent of the sewage generated, says a 2021 report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
Says Kapur: “Sustainable and scientific management of faecal sludge and septage is, therefore, a priority for UP. Septage management has significant inclusive social outcomes, given that those dependent on septage systems are mostly the poorest and the marginalised. Women and other disadvantaged sections are often the worst impacted by poor sanitation. An effective and affordable septage management system can generate significant social, environmental and public health outcomes.”
Speaking on the occasion, Amrit Abhijat, principal secretary, DoUD, Government of Uttar Pradesh, proposed introduction of a system of ranking districts in the state on the basis of “ease of septage management” to motivate city administrations. He also emphasised on the critical and relevant role that the DoUD plays in cities. “We (the department) are as good as yesterday. Our role is that of providing a vital public service, and if we do not perform that service even one day, we are liable to be brought to task.”
Speaking before him, Neha Sharma, director, DoUD outlined the key priorities of urban local bodies (ULBs) and said: “ULBs must be made an integral part of the whole infrastructural development processes for FSSM, right from their inception. They should be involved at every step.” She also stressed on the criticality of “bye-laws and how they can play an important role in driving change and creating lasting impact”.
According to the report released here today, as of June 2022, 62 FSSM projects are being built in UP, supported by AMRUT, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) or urban local bodies themselves. These are spread across 59 cities and towns in 53 districts. The total investment amounts to Rs 220 crore — Rs 190 crore of this would go towards building 40 faecal sludge treatment plants (FSTPs), and another Rs 30 crore for building 22 co-treatment plants.
The report also says that fully functional and operational septage treatment systems are now in place in 10 cities of UP. These include 10 FSTPs and one co-treatment plant. The installed and under-construction capacity of UP’s septage treatment infrastructure now stands at 2,075 kilolitre per day (KLD).
Says Narain: “What we are finding is that the challenge of urban sanitation in UP – as well as in many other parts of the country – is not a technology or infrastructural challenge, but one of governance and administration. We need to focus on streamlining operations and maintenance, which is the key to successful treatment.”
Recommendations: What Uttar Pradesh can do
Says Kapur: “CSE has been supporting UP’s initiatives in septage management since 2015. The report we have released here today – and its recommendations – are based on on-the-spot field assessments of all the septage treatment plants under construction in the state.”
The report recommends:
- Provide last mile physical connectivity: Most of the plants are in the completion stage. Timely release of final payments, following quality control checks, is required. All-weather road connectivity to FSTPs will ensure access for desludging trucks and tankers.
- Ensure O&M cost recovery by private operators: Financial viability of the FSTPs will be a challenge if the desludging fee charged from households is kept very high — as per the tender document, a desludging fee of Rs 2,500 is to be charged from a household. It discourages the households from regular desludging and will hamper cost recovery by private operators.
- Ensure provision of adequate quantity and frequency of sludge at treatment facility: These systems are based on biological processes, and hence an adequate quantity of sludge as per design and in a regular frequency is a must. An effective and affordable desludging plan is required for each town.
- Establish and appoint dedicated septage management cells/nodal officers at state level: Such a cell/officer, preferably in the Uttar Pradesh Department of Urban Development (DoUD), can help coordinate all work related to overseeing construction, quality control and quality assurance, O&M, policy rollout, planning and monitoring. This will go a long way in sustainability of the work done and in effective upscaling of septage management all across the 734 towns of UP.
- Create enabling policy, work towards capacity development and behaviour change communication: Desludging bye-laws are needed at the state and ULB levels. These bye-laws should promote regular desludging of septic tanks at a minimal fee, and ban indiscriminate dumping of sludge in the open.
(A CSE media briefing)
Report sent by Pratyusha Mukherjee