While Government of India considers Kerala a state which has achieved 100 % sanitation and hence has excluded the state from the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), it has to be studied whether the sanitation facilities in the state is 100 % safe sanitation. There are several problems in various urban and rural areas in Kerala in the field of sanitation. The most common and critical are given below. Please note that the list is not exhaustive but only indicative.
1. Common facility for collection, treatment and safe disposal of domestic effluents.
Sewer systems are seen only in the cities of Trivandrum and parts of Cochin. Even in Trivandrum the sewer system is available only within the old city limits. Areas south east of Karamana, west of Vallakadavu, north of Airport, Kowdiar and Kesavadasapuram are not covered by the sewer system. The domestic effluents so collected are used for farming purpose near Valiathura which was acceptable technology at the time of installation of the system (about 70 years ago). A new treatment plant using modern technology is being set up at present. In Cochin, where there are two treatment plants in operation (one at Elamkulam and the second near KINCO jetty near High Court junction) only a part of the city is covered by the sewer system. Very interestingly, Vyttila, Elamkulam and Kadavanthra areas, close to the oldest treatment plant in the state are still not covered by the sewer system. The treatment systems installed are supposed to be of high quality yielding treated effluent of acceptable quality fit for discharge in to the backwaters. The third of the sewer systems is for Guruvayur Municipal area laid about 20 years back but not yet commissioned due to the absence of the treatment plant. Thus it can be seen that the entire state is depending on Septic Tank-Soak Pit systems for treatment and disposal of domestic effluents. Multi storey apartment complexes are exceptions, thanks to the initiative by Kerala State Pollution Control Board to insist on them having their own plants for treatment of the effluents to acceptable quality before disposal by means of Soak Pits. It may be of interest to note that Bureau of Indian Standards never suggested Soak Pits as means of disposal but has recommended only dispersion trenches (Seepage Beds) in IS: 2470 Part II. The only code in south Asia which suggests Soak Pits is Sri Lankan Code (SLS: 745) although the same code gives Seepage Beds as an alternative.
2. Construction of Septic Tanks
It has been observed that most of the Septic Tanks constructed whether in rural areas or urban areas are not as per IS Code (IS 2470: Part I). Even many of the qualified and practicing Architects are not even aware of such an IS Code. Further, in many households, Septic Tanks are constructed without any impermeable floor making them Soak Pits in the technical sense. In localities where the water table is generally high, an ‘overflow pipe’ is found to be provided at the outlet of the Septic Tank directly feeding a canal or a drain or a water body.
3. Use of Soak Pits
Soak Pits in water logged/high water table areas are generally provided with an ‘overflow pipe’ is found to be provided at the outlet of the Septic Tank directly feeding a canal or a drain or a water body. This is being done without taking in to consideration the fact the drains are designed only for collection and transport of storm water.
4. Septic Tank Sludge
Even in multi storey apartment complexes having treatments, use of a Septic Tank or similar anaerobic reactors is a necessity for primary anaerobic treatment of sewage and all such reactors will require periodical removal of sludge. While public or local bodies satisfy themselves by putting up notices or forming ‘action councils’ against indiscriminate disposal of Septic Tank sludge, there is no proper direction to the users as to how to dispose off the same. The ground reality is that there is actually no method of safely treating and disposing the sludge available in the state. In the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, wherever there is a Municipal Sewage Treatment Plant, the plant will accept such sludge at a fee of ₹ 200/- per load (approximately 3000 L). However, the local bodies there are not strict with the movement of Septic sludge and hence the owners of gulpers prefer dumping the material in a nearby water body in many cases.
5. Safe Drinking Water
Safe drinking water is actually a rare commodity in the water rich state of Kerala. There several Water Treatment Plants installed and operated by Kerala Water Authority. However, that supply and demand do not match even by 50 %.
It could of interest to note that there are some small towns in South Asia which take initiatives in tackling such problems in ways acceptable in social, legal and technical sense. Just two examples are given below.
One is Musiri in Trichy district Tamil Nadu. The town has facility for collection, transport and treatment of Septic Tank sludge. The town has a very good composting plant for Solid Waste Treatment. The treated sludge is mixed with compost and the result is better quality manure.
The second small town is Balangoda in Ratnapura district, Sri Lanka. They went one upon Musiri by charging a higher price for the manure containing treated sludge than the plain compost. The latter is priced at LKR 8/- while the former is priced at LKR 7/-.
Now, to the key question-If even small towns in Tamil Nadu or Sri Lanka can do many things in this direction, why not in Kerala? Here comes the critical question- Who will initiate all these?