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Toilets that churn gold for the soil

Nidhi Jamwal

On an average, the annual faecal matter and urine of one human being contains 4.6 kg nitrogen, 0.6 kg phosphorous and 1.3 kg potassium, all recyclable.

Till two years ago, Kairi, a Tharu tribe village of 138 families in Pashchim Champaran, Bihar, did not have even a single toilet. Fed up of the difficulties faced by female members of his family, who had to walk long distance to defecate, Yogendra Nath, a farmer, decided to take a step.

In early 2015, Nath came in touch with Vinita Kumari of neighbouring Poorvi Tola village, who, with the help of a local NGO Water Action, had managed to construct 31 toilets in her village. These ‘ecosan’ (ecological sanitation) toilets, known as phaydemand shauchalaya (beneficial toilets), not only provide sanitation, but also control groundwater pollution and generate humanure and urine for agricultural use.

With technical assistance from Water Action, Nath constructed his own phaydemand shauchalaya in April 2015, the first-ever toilet in his village. It cost Rs 18,015; of which, Rs 12,000 was funded by government. Nath’s toilet not only provides hygienic place for defecation, but also supports agricultural practices.

Yogendra Nath with his wife (she died 2 months ago) and child/©Nidhi Jamwal

On an average, the annual faecal matter and urine of one human being contains 4.6 kg nitrogen, 0.6 kg phosphorous and 1.3 kg potassium. These toilets recycle them. It has two specially-designed toilet pans placed above two raised concrete excreta chambers. Each pan has a 10-inch diameter space in the centre leading to the chambers where faeces are collected. Sloping away from this are two basins at the front and back with their own drainage. Former collects urine, latter drains out the wash water. Thus, faeces and urine are segregated at the source.

After defecation, two spoons of ash are sprinkled on the faeces and the lid is closed. Water or urine should not enter it. Once the chamber is full, it is sealed and the family starts using the second chamber. In 5-6 months, the sealed excreta converts into humanure (odourless powdery manure), which is used in the fields. Urine, diluted with water, is sprinkled on the crops.

In two years, Poorvi Tola’s 31 ecosan toilets have together generated 108 quintals of humanure and 24,900 litres of urine, which has been applied in the fields.

“My family has stopped buying chemical fertilisers and is saving Rs 12,000 per year,” says Kumari.

Vinay Kumar of Water Action says these toilets also control groundwater pollution, as there is no underground septic tank. Nath’s phaydemand shauchalaya is already inspiring the fellow villagers. Three more residents of Kairi have constructed similar ‘ecosan’ toilets.

This article has been republished with authors permission and was originally published in DNA.


Nidhi Jamwal is an independent environment and development journalist. She regularly contributes articles to Scroll.in, Village Square, and Deccan Herald. She writes a fortnightly column ‘EcoTalk’ in DNA.