India needs to move beyond the current drive for open defecation-free cities and work towards faecal sludge management for a safe urban environment without any risk to land and rivers, said an expert in the field. "To achieve comprehensive urban sanitation services, India needs to move beyond the current drive for open defecation-free cities. It must start working towards faecal sludge management (FSM) for a safe urban environment without any risk to our land and rivers," Puneet Srivastava, policy manager at WaterAid India, told PTI. On discharge of untreated sewage into water bodies as well as septic tanks, pit latrines and open defecation that pollute groundwater and surface water, he said, "We see effective faecal sludge management by urban local bodies, municipalities and government agencies, in collaboration with the civil society, academic institutions and the private sector, as the way forward." WaterAid India is currently involved in capacity building of the Centre through the National Fecal Sludge and Septage Management (NFSSM) Alliance and helping state governments in developing policies on FSM, said Srivastava. When pointed out that of about 38,000 million litres per day (mld) of sewage generated in India, the existing treatment capacity is for about 12,000 mld (32 per cent) in all the metropolitan cities, he said, "Most of our sewage treatment plants (STPs) are severely under-utilised due to the absence or poor functionality of sewerage networks. "We need to think of a planning process where investments in sewerage networks or safe transportation of faecal sludge to STPs become a precursor to the construction of the plants." Asked how far the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has helped address the sanitation problem, Srivastava said, "The mission focuses on toilet construction and changing the habits of the people. "However, looking at the large number of toilets being built under it, the need for an effective FSM has now been recognised and is part of the AMRUT programme initiated by the Union Ministry of Urban Development." He also said that a lot of urban poor did not have access to water. "With the current drive to build household toilets, the demand for water at the household level has gone up.
Most of these urban poor collect water from public sources and this only adds to the existing burden of fetching water, which usually falls on women in the family," he said. Strengthening the management and hygiene standards of community toilets, adoption of less water-guzzling technologies in urinals and toilets and an increased awareness to avoid wastage of water are a few ways to work towards an effective programme, said Srivastava. Praising the districts in West Bengal such as Nadia, North 24-Parganas and Hooghly which have earned the open defecation-free status, he said, "Districts that have been declared ODF need to come up with a comprehensive sanitation services plan and management programme including FSM. Poor capacity of urban local bodies and limited financing are major bottlenecks which need to be addressed.