written by: Isha Basyal

Even after nearly a decade in the sanitation sector, you continually come across stories of exemplary successes, which you are yet to personally witness. However, when the chance to participate in a two-day event in Odisha, comprising a learning session and partner meeting, came along, dismissing it was out of the question. Seizing this opportunity to learn from visionaries, interact with practitioners, and witness accomplishments first-hand was imperative.  The learning event and partners meeting showcased the remarkable principles of citywide inclusive sanitation and its transformative impact on the lives of marginalized communities. The entirety of my visit to Bhubaneshwar, Odisha exceeded my expectations, and I am eager to convey the aspects that have profoundly impacted me.

Inclusivity – A Dream Realized

The dream of leading a dignified life and attaining financial independence is universal, but it often remains elusive for the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society, such as transgender individuals and women. However, in Odisha, I witnessed an extraordinary example of inclusivity where some 100+ Faecal Sludge Treatment Plants (FSTPs) had 8 being managed by transgender communities under self-help groups (SHGs). Their pride in this responsibility was evident through the impeccable operations and management of these treatment plants.

I paid a short visit to a FSTP managed by a group of 6-7 women who had once sought their identities or refuge from violence. Despite lacking formal education, these women had been empowered with technical knowledge to explain the entire process flow within the FSTPs. The cleanliness and maintenance of these facilities were exemplary, erasing any perception of the unbearable stench associated with faecal sludge treatment. Their warmth and hospitality left me with an unforgettable memory.

SHG group doing their thing with pride and smile

A decent working space

FSTP site also used as recreational area

Dignity – Elevating the Underprivileged

The true test of a successful sanitation system lies in its ability to uplift the most disadvantaged in society. In Odisha, this principle was evident through various commendable schemes like Jaga Mission, Garima, 24*7 Drinking Water, and Drink from Tap mission. Efforts to upgrade slums to liveable spaces by providing essential amenities like piped water supply, paved roads, street lighting, access to toilets, stormwater drainage, and electricity were genuinely inspiring.

I had the privilege to visit Adarsh Colonies where vibrant houses with painted walls coexisted with metered drinking water supply, sewer-connected toilets, clean community spaces, and even designated play areas for children. Witnessing these transformations made me question if I had entered a parallel universe where dreams were genuinely achieved.

Maa Mangala Adarsh colony (a delisted slum) with a community space and has 24*7 metered drinking water supply

Ishaneshwar Adarsh colony (a delisted slum) with Drink from Tap- literally!

Maa Mangala Adarsh colony (a delisted slum) with a children play area

Innovation – Spotlight on Greywater Management

In the realm of sanitation, Greywater Management (GWM) had long been overshadowed by Faecal Sludge Management (FSM). However, Odisha surprised me with its innovative approach towards GWM. The government piloted various models of greywater management, integrating existing technologies to maximize the utilization of public spaces. This dedication to innovate and adapt was truly commendable.

Greywater management on the side of the lane which looks like just the other ordinary pavement – Jatni

Leadership – Bridging Vision to Delivery

Leadership plays a pivotal role in translating a vision into reality. Odisha’s success story was fueled by the unwavering commitment and visionary leadership of Shri G. Mathi Vathanan, the U&HDD Principal Secretary, and his team. The government’s willingness to listen to the needs of its people, seek support when required, and drive transformative initiatives has propelled Odisha to new heights.

My Odisha expedition was revelatory,  underscoring the unmatched potential of citywide inclusive sanitation. It showcased the power of empowering marginalized communities, the importance of preserving human dignity, the impact of strong governance, and the significance of ceaseless innovation. As I departed Odisha, I carried with me not just admirations but also the inspiration and motivation to continue my work in the sanitation sector, spreading knowledge and learning from the exemplary examples set by this visionary state.

AND who could forget the appetizing lunch with the ingenious Mr. Principal Secretary himself – a tantalizing reminder that even in the pursuit of progress, there’s always room for a savoury detour on the path to change.

Photo courtesy: Vivek Pandey

* I extend my gratitude to Prof. Shubhagato, Anindhita, and Anju of the SCI-AI team for facilitating and participating in the site visits to the slums. Similarly, very much appreciate the efforts of Pragyan and Dignat from E&Y for coordinating and accompanying me during the visits to the FSTPs and Greywater management sites.