The main thrust of the TSC has been to build pit latrines. Typically the double pit latrine shown below is considered to be a cheap solution to providing toilets being economical both in money terms and in the use of water for flushing. When one pit becomes full it is covered and the other pit is used. The pits are made big enough so that it takes eight months to a year to fill so that by the time one fills up the faeces in the other filled pit decompose into manure and can be emptied into the fields to be used as such.
All these problems have come to the fore in the implementation of the TSC. The funds sanctioned for the construction of these latrines were low and became even lower due to the inevitable corruption and so the end user got a toilet with a small superstructure over an equally small single pit without any vent and so in most cases these toilets were never used as the people preferred to go out into the open. Even if some people did use these toilets for some time, once the pit began filling and the stench increased they were forced to desist. In some places, where the toilets have been built properly by some NGOs who have put in more funds in addition to those provided by the government, the problem of cleaning the pits cropped up after some time. Finally nowhere in the literature on TSC is there any discussion of the adverse effects that these pit latrines, when they function, have on the groundwater. If there are a number of such pit latrines in close proximity in a congested village then it can easily be imagined what this concentrated effluent discharge into the ground will do to the quality of the water being accessed from open wells and handpumps nearby. These wells and handpumps are rarely tested for the purity of their water. Thus, in an attempt to solve the problem of sanitation, the problem of the supply of potable drinking water is aggravated, especially during the monsoons when water borne diseases are rampant. There are no studies of the incidence of water borne diseases in localities where a large number of pit latrines are functioning. In fact this is a central problem of our country that household sewage whether from poor families or from the very rich is mostly released untreated into the environment causing a serious problem of water pollution throughout. That there are no studies whatsoever to determine the adverse effect on water quality and public health that these pit latrines are having is in itself an indication of the level of pre-meditated sophistry of those who have pushed these ill designed and even worse constructed pit latrines as viable toilet solutions here in India. The thrust is only on constructing thousands of toilets and not on ensuring that they are of good technical quality and social acceptability for them to be used regularly. Now these pit latrines are being built nineteen to the dozen in high water table areas in Bihar and Bengal and in some cases the effluents are being released directly into the numerous water bodies that are used by the residents for bathing and washing. This great toilet hoax is now going to be multiplied many times with the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Campaign).
The first thing that has to be realised is that it is not enough to build a toilet but it is necessary also to ensure that it is designed well and the effluents are properly treated. The technically sound decentralised system is the septic tank plus soakpit combination which is shown below. The wastewater from the toilets coming in at the inlet goes through two chambers which reduce the BOD from 700 mg/litre to about 250 mg/litre at the outlet of the septic tank. This water is then passed through brick crush and sand and leached into the ground by which time its BOD level is about 30 mg/litre which is the permissible level for release into the ground. Here too there is the caveat that there should not be an open well within 10 metres of the soakpit and that the water table should not rise to the level of the sand during the monsoons.
Traditionally people have preferred to go out in the open to defecate because it is cheaper and requires less water and is free of social taboos with regard to cleaning the faeces and in an uncongested rural surrounding may be hygienic also if the defecation is done at a large enough distance from habitations. However, with the increase in population, open spaces have become limited and shrub land has also been brought under cultivation or habitation and so often open defecation takes place in a concentrated location leading to sanitation and health problems. The biggest productivity loss in the country is through sickness due to water borne diseases and this arises from untreated household wastewater and faeces being released into the environment. This problem is not there in rural areas only but throughout the country with the capital city of Delhi being the biggest polluter of open water bodies despite having close to 40 percent of the country's sewage treatment capacity.
So instead of tomtoming the success of the TSC and seeking to replicate its devastating real failure through a much larger Swacch Bhatat Abhiyan it would be better to assess what is needed in technological and social terms to make going to toilets acceptable to people and then investing the resources required for this instead of perpetrating possibly the greatest public investment hoax among the many that have been foisted on this country by its idiotic politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats since independence. People will first have to be shown the results of the tests on their water sources and studies of the incidence of water borne diseases and convinced that they are losing massively due to water borne diseases which can easily be stopped by adoption of proper sanitation and waste treatment practices. Since the multiplier effects of a healthy population are huge, the government has to spend money to make proper toilets for the poor who cannot afford to do it themselves and also to convince people of the need for sanitation instead of just beaming advertisements on television channels. Currently, as mentioned earlier, all toilets in this country, not just the atrociously built pit latrines, are contributing to water pollution because of a lack of application of mind to the problem which is being masked by a penchant for false publicity. And the international agencies are complicit in this black comedy.