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Suryabarti (Surya) Majhi is a Project Engineer in Odisha Water Supply & Sewerage Board.  She joined the department as a young assistant executive engineer in 2016 before which she worked in various government agencies. She calls herself an “engineer by mistake” because she wanted to study English- literature before she decided to study engineering. As a project engineer, Surya held the key to ensuring effective implementation of the state's Faecal sludge management. This has earned her a spot on the sanitation hall of change on the NFSSM alliance portal.

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Josphine Gaicugi is a WASH practitioner and enthusiast, currently based in Germany. She holds a bachelors of science in civil engineering and a masters of science in urban water and sanitation. Her career has been a whirlwind including supervision of civil engineering projects, WASH project implementation and management, research and involvement in WASH in emergency missions. She enjoys research, writing, working with vulnerable and marginalized communities and learning new things. 

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According to the SDG report in 2023, 3.5 billion people lacked safely managed sanitation, including 1.5 billion without basic sanitation services. Additionally, between 2015  and 2022, safely managed sanitation services increased from 49 to 57 percent;  This progress signifies an additional 687 million, 40 million of which is Odisha state. 

Odisha State is one of 28 states in India with a total population of 47 million. It has always been a water surplus state. Until 2015, Odisha had a coverage of 2% sewerage systems covering 2 big cities in the state that led to pollution of surface and groundwater bodies. The state realised the urgency in finding a sustainable solution. On the other hand, sewerage systems proved to be expensive and hard to implement as they required contractors to operate and maintain. The head of the Housing & Urban Development Department, Govt. of Odisha came up with a vision to change this situation through decentralised sanitation managed by the local community. Decentralised sanitation had already been applied in other parts of Asia at large while India was at its nascent stage in 2016.

A benchmarking trip to Malaysia was organised, where they already had operational faecal sludge treatment plants. The aim was to adopt appropriate FSM technology which is easy to operate, low technology and minimally mechanised. The Malaysian design was therefore modified to fit the needs of the Odisha state.  Initially 9 pilot plants were constructed between 2017 -2019, through which, Odisha Water Supply & Sewerage Board learnt how to optimise the design, understood how to implement systems and processes,and  to raise FSM awareness to the community. The plants are all solar powered to save on energy, and identically constructed, only differing in size based on the population in each town. 

Factors that have led to the success of Odisha in sanitation:

Community involvement in management of sanitation infrastructure

Implementing a project in the field is the real challenge; to change the mindset of the community. However, the success of affordable sanitation in Odisha has been highly attributed to the involvement of the community in the management of its sanitation infrastructure. Women and trans-gender self help groups are involved during containment by constructing and managing the toilets. During emptying and transportation, they are paid for every referral for septic tank cleaning, they are also trained in the management of treatment plants and are offered employment to oversee the day to day operation of the treatment plants. 

When I asked Surya what was the incentive for the trans-gender and the women self-help groups to be involved in the sanitation chain activities, she explained that in the traditional social set up, women were not employed and the trans-gender groups were outcasts often feared by people. However, providing them with a source of income earned them a place in the society and that they can be independent and empowered. She mentioned that the impact as a result of involving the community is the sense of ownership and responsibility which results in quality and efficient systems.

Decentralised systems 

The state’s commitment to improving sanitation continues to evolve, aiming for safer and healthier urban environments. To date, Odisha has been able to contain black water in the whole state with 113 treatment plants completed and 7 that are still under construction and will be completed in 2024. Currently, the focus is on grey water treatment and management. The aim is to treat water in a decentralised way to reduce the load at the outfall level and hence a smaller and manageable treatment plant. To achieve this, they have orchestrated treatment systems at household level, lane level, community level and outfall level.

According to Surya, to be able to achieve 100% coverage for sanitation, the sanitation department has to work hand in hand with other departments that relate to sanitation. The state of Odisha has been able to achieve safely managed drinking water for all (drink from tap) alongside affordable sanitation. The state has developed a program that provides dignity to sanitation workers and a ban on manhole scavenging (GARIMA). The sanitation workers use machinery (mechanised cleaning), the government has provided health insurance for these people to dignify their work towards better sanitation. Odisha has another program for the urban poor where the government provides land rights for the people living in informal settlements (Jaga Mission). These people are then accorded basic services towards delisting slums leading to a liveable habitat in urban areas.

Capacity building and peer to peer partnerships 

Through documentation and knowledge management, the state of Odisha has been able to develop a model known as the Odisha Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM) system. Odisha acknowledges the benefits of capacity building as it has been instrumental in imparting knowledge to their staff in the various municipalities before implementation and operation of the treatment plants. Therefore, the state offers capacity building to neighbouring Indian states and Asian countries at large. The state has been holding informative conferences to educate sanitation practitioners on the Odisha FSSM system. Most recently the international conclave on urban transformation was aimed at the transmission of the Odisha model of Urban Transformation to foster partnerships among states, countries and organisations.

Visionary Leadership

While concluding our interview, I  asked Surya how the government has been able to achieve this in such a short time. To which she said that Odisha has visionary leaders and administrators. She also explained that they have curated a transparent channel of communication and engaging the residents. “There is a programme called right to information(RTI), that allows people to ask any question to the government for 10 Indian Rupees” said Surya. Before construction of a FSM plant in any urban body,  they would gather representatives in the community and explain why there is a need to construct a plant and why it is necessary.



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