Towards Dignified Sanitation

10 years ago, the greatest number of manual scavengers were employed to clear the railway tracks of excrement from the train toilets.  Targets were set to convert toilets on carriages gradually over 15 years until 2025. It seemed like it would never happen! But steady progress has been made. The new design for train toilets is to empty into a kind of septic tank rather than directly onto the tracks. Waste water overflows from the tank and pours onto the gravel of the tracks in a steady stream using the railway tracks rather like a nation-sized trickle filter. When the tanks are filled, they are emptied (presumably by machines) at maintenance depots.  Already the railway tracks are cleaner and train station platforms are more pleasant places to wait. And, the job of the manual scavengers employed on India’s Railways is much improved.

In 2016, the Government of India gave environmental sanitation much importance through the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (clean India initiative). Prior to that 50% of people in India were defaecating in the open. The programme aimed for India to be ‘open defaecation free’ by 2nd October 2019.  That didn’t happen but the number of households with access to toilets has increased by an impressive 30%.

To some extent, the programme did promote ‘sanitary latrine’ technologies that ‘safely confine human faeces and eliminates the need of human handling before it is fully decomposed’. However, in many places, the toilets being constructed were of the single pit latrine type, which in all likelihood will require the services of manual scavengers to empty.

One dignified sanitation option with lots of potential is ‘simplified sewerage’: i.e. household toilets – linked to simplified (piped) sewerage – treated in a large settlement tank – waste water discharged into a constructed wetland.  A system like this would be cheap to install, easy to maintain and remove the need for the manual handling of faeces or sludge.  This technology is widely used in other countries (especially in South America) and has proved to be highly effective.

Find out more by clicking the links below:

Latrine types and their impact on manual scavenging


Researchers at Heriot Watt University has recently been looking at the viability of simplified sewerage systems (dignified sanitation) for a small low-income community in South India.  The Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development published their work in November 2017.  For more information contact


There are also some new inventions for cleaning of sewer lines and pits with mechanical equipment including robots, such as the ‘Sewer Croc’® developed by

And some new chemical engineering solutions such as ‘Biologic’® developed by

For more ideas and information please contact us.