E-Toilet- A Recherché Social Initiative

eToilet- Beyond the Technology

Most corporate conglomerates think that contributing to public sanitation is not their cup of tea. Especially in India, where the mere mention of sanitation was considered a taboo, it was difficult to find any major developments or innovations in this sector, not to mention a company that deals exclusively in the making and marketing of toilets. It was never even considered a need nor a business opportunity.  According to the statistics of the Health Ministry, over 600 million people still defecate in the open. The juvenile death rate owing to lack of sanitation is still very high in India.

The multinational conglomerate, Eram Group headed by Dr. Siddeek Ahmed decided to address this challenge and take it by the horn. The eToilet was conceptualized during 2009-10 and a smart, aesthetically appealing, unmanned, eco-friendly public sanitation infrastructure called eToilet was created.

Providing environmentally-safe and sustainable sanitation to millions of people is a Herculean task, especially in the world’s second most populated country. The task is doubly difficult in a country where the introduction of new technologies is apprehended to challenge people’s traditions and beliefs. And when the technology is a completely automated sanitation infrastructure, there had to be extra efforts for sensitization of users and buyers alike. 

eToilet was conceived with an aim to address the issues associated with traditional public toilets- viz. non availability of water, power, manpower, lack of maintenance and sustainability. Serious dearth of personnel,   as care takers of toilets is a palpable issue, often hindering sustained service to the users.

Moreover, public toilets which are constructed with government funds are closed within a short time, due to lack of a sustainable income model. With extensive research on the plight of public toilets in India, Eram has identified the three major challenges viz.  utilization of resources, maintaining cleanliness and hygiene and ensuring sustainability which can be addressed to a large extent by utilizing technology in a judicious manner. 

With these learnings, Eram developed eToilets with a vision to make a new paradigm in the way public sanitation is dealt with in India. eToilet use less space and can be installed in 3-5 hours at site and is portable in case of change of location in exceptional cases.

 

Though eToilets are referred to as electronic toilets, these unmanned toilets do not have any electronic interfaces for a user. The user can use it with more ease and convenience and in a hygienic ambience viz. a viz. conventional toilet. All this is enabled with the back end monitoring mechanism enabled by convergence of electronics, web and mobile technology integrated in eToilet. It has automated entry mechanism, sensor based access, automated flushing and cleaning system. Convergence of technologies in sanitation was indeed a challenge and Eram has   put in   complete automation from entry to sewage management in the wet-type toilet segment. eToilets are integrated  with solid revenue streams of user fee collection and advertisement and bring in a structured maintenance mechanism through manual support and online monitoring.

 

The eToilet was the result of such out of the box thinking, which was powered by the idea of technology enabled sanitation. The concept of IOT, Internet of Things, was adopted in eToilet, even before the concept came into being. The eToilet is part of the Connected eToilet Infrastructure (CeTI), a platform for monitoring the operation of each toilet. Owners and technology providers use CeTI to check the health status of the eToilets and see if any corrective action needs to be taken. A dedicated website is currently mapping public eToilets across the country.

 

The public, especially the people who work outside rave about these new and effective installations. The regular users offer word of mouth publicity and encourage more people to use it. Most of the e-toilets are placed in public places where the footfall is comparatively high, the frequent users may find it fine but the first timers had apprehensions about its privacy and lock systems.  Initially, women users were wary of e-toilets; they were circumspect in their remarks. They want to use the e-toilet, but did not want to do so in a public space with its fair share of gawkers.

In order to gain the confidence of women users, Eram installed women-only toilets in collaboration with Kerala State Women Development Corporation. These ‘She-Toilets’ are currently operational in 25 different locations in Kerala, a further 25 to be installed soon. She-toilets are facilitated with sanitary napkin wending machine and incinerator.

The most prestigious honour of being the grantee of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has opened up new avenues for Eram. Eram is collaborating with leading institutions across the globe working in sanitation and waste processing. Their partnership especially with California Institute of Technology, Duke University and University of South Florida for field testing the respective waste processing unit is a great step towards achieving self-sustaining toilets- toilets that generate their own energy and water from the human waste.

Eram’s collaboration with the CSR project of Tata Consultancy Services, in association with PM Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat programme has already delivered around 500 e-toilets in Andhra Pradesh alone.“I am proud of the fact that, after installing e-toilets in government schools, kids no longer come home with filled water bottles.  Honestly, that alone is reason enough for us to go further with this project”, said Dr. Ahmed.

ESS is disseminating the positive effect of e-toilets around India. Buoyed by the acceptance in Kerala, the company has reached 17 other states in the country with a spread of over 1200 eToilets in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bengaluru, Gujarat, Punjab, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and Jammu and Kashmir.

Eram’s earnest wish to promote entrepreneurship in public sanitation has further inspired an innovative idea called the ‘eshop’. Eshops are electronically accessible shops which can be installed adjacent to etoilets and can be run by entrepreneurs. These shops in the micro retailing sector, can provide livelihood opportunities to the members of marginalized segments. The shops fetch an income for these entrepreneurs from sale of goods, advertisement income and from user fee charges from etoilets.

Sanitation is a deeply complex challenge where cultural values, social morals, political priorities, and development objectives are entangled together. Innovative technology by itself is unlikely to be enough to instil lasting change.  To be a true success, innovative toilets will have to effectively engage with this complex dynamic of the society, and Eram looks forward to the day that happens.