Institutionalising Periodic Desludging of Community and Public Toilets in Trichy

Gayathri Pattnam, Rajesh Ramamoorthy, Sugantha Priscilla, Rajeswari R | 2022


Community and public toilets (CT/PT) are essential in widening the access to sanitation facilities and ensure that marginalized communities, mobile workers, and the general public can access a hygienic, reliable, and dignified space. Trichy, the fourth largest city in Tamil Nadu, India, with a population of one million, has a network of over 400 public and community toilets, which cater to around 35,000 households without individual latrines, and to a large floating population (TNUSSP 2018). Around 40% of these toilets use on-site sanitation systems, typically holding tanks, to manage fecal waste. Although the Trichy City Corporation (TCC), provides de-sludging services to these toilets using two vacuum trucks, inconsistent administrative oversight led to gaps in service delivery. Holding tanks require regular emptying to avoid overflows, therefore a periodic de-sludging model was developed for the CT/PTs. Additionally, embedding systems of accountability at different levels is required to sustain this model. Records of service requisition and provision were not being maintained making it difficult to track which toilets had received service, and when. As a first step, GPS devices were installed in the trucks. The GPS data confirmed that eight toilets received services at a high frequency, thereby exacerbating inefficiencies in service delivery. This helped in optimizing routes for expanding service coverage. Simultaneously, an assessment of on-site systems at 166 toilets and discussions with caretakers at these toilets revealed damages in the containment systems at 17 toilets, and overflows were observed at 47 locations. Caretakers also reported requesting for de-sludging and not receiving the service. This can be attributed to the muddled lines of communication between the caretakers, the staff operating the trucks and the TCC.

Field visits for municipal officers were organized to highlight the need for periodic de-sludging and problems with containment. Thereafter, based on the findings from the assessment and inputs from the sanitary staff and caretakers, a trial schedule targeting high-usage (over 50 users) toilets was prepared, covering 40 toilets over a period of three months from September to December 2020. The trial demonstrated route planning while also allowing emergency servicing. Importantly, it was an exercise in preparing officers for taking ownership of the process and establishing reporting practices. Based on the results of the trial, in December 2020, the TCC issued a notification formalizing the periodic de-sludging of high footfall CT/PTs, which is now being extended to cover all CT/PTs.

While the trial clarified the roles of different cadres, the real challenge lies in sustaining the practice. A mobile application is being piloted to create and track the de-sludging schedules for the toilets. These will be used by the sanitary officers and truck staff, enabling a two-way visibility on the de-sludging activities. Additionally, to prevent slippages and address issues, an escalation matrix has also been envisioned.

The broader model of institutionalizing the periodic de-sludging of CT/PTs in Trichy has numerous insights to offer for other cities looking to scale FSM, while bringing the focus back on public authorities for delivering inclusive sanitation.