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How Toilet Board Coalition is Making Sanitation Business Aspirational in Pune

Pune is a rapidly developing smart city with a population of approximately 40 lakh and a floating population of 2 lakh people a day. Nearly 38% of the population lives in slums occupying about 2% of the land. While the city has performed well in the annual ‘Swacch Sarvekshan’ rankings (ranked 11th in sanitation in 2018), there is much to be achieved in terms of provision of clean, accessible and sustainable sanitation facilities, processing of toilet resources, and introducing new business models for a sustainable and resilient sanitation sector.

The city generates about 750 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage and can process 477 MLD. The union government, in partnership with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), is investing $170 million to create additional treatment capacity of 396 MLD by constructing 11 new sewage treatment plants (STPs).

The proposed tenders for these STPs have kept the technology open. This provides scope for proposing innovative technologies which could have various revenue-generating streams from the sale of by-products derived from toilet resources.

Under the government’s Smart Cities Mission, Pune has been one of the fastest moving smart city developments. Since 2016 Pune has deployed over 200 free Wi-Fi hot spots for citizens around the city and has placed environmental and user sensors to monitor pollution levels, transportation, and mobility. Further plans include smart parking, lighting and water metering.

Also Read: Sanitation is the New Growth Engine

To manage all of this new data coming into the city, Pune has built an elaborate Command and Control System (CCS). All data captured from various sensors and monitoring devices placed in the city end up in the CCS.

This is the place where data becomes information and drives more effective decision-making. It is a large digital map of the city that shows where each sensor is and what information it is telling us. A traffic light system alerts monitoring technicians to areas of the city that may need attention or response to be deployed.

The Toilet Board Coalition (TBC) is working with Pune Smart City to have the city’s public toilets show up on this digital map, enabled by sensors, and feed in information about toilet usage, environmental conditions in the toilets, and soon disease surveillance and sewage treatment monitoring.

“Our idea is to evolve an environmentally and financially sustainable sanitation economy by tapping into the existing technologies. We are using gadgets such as footfall-counting sensors in malls to identify how many people are using and when are they using.

We have integrated these data with the city’s CCS. This helps in scheduling cleaning activity in public toilet areas to ensure cleanliness all the time,” Sunil Agarwal, director of smart sanitation city project at TBC told SH.

“Usually, people do not prefer using public toilets as the service is not well maintained. They rather use toilets in malls, restaurants or Sulabh toilets. We aim to make toilets warm, friendly, and a clean space that can offer add-on services such as café.

This will attract more people to use public toilets. Thus, the business case for commodities, consumables, building products will emerge,” he explained. Exciting times are round the corner for the concept, he stressed, as TBC is running an accelerator programme for startups that can excite the ecosystem with new ideas and innovation for sustaining smart sanitation in cities.

Agarwal added that the non-profit has piloted 10 toilets for women in Pune since 2018. “We have already developed a roadmap for other cities to follow based on our learnings in Pune.” He added: “We expect the government to arrive at standards for toilets, which will help in giving momentum to the business of toilets.”

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