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Praveen Tammana
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For those of you in Hyderabad - or will be in Hyderabad next week - there is a tech talk on 'Android Sensors' by my colleague Heman Khanna at Google's Hyderabad office at Kondapur at 5:30 PM on May 26. This is an invite-only event. If you're interested, please register yourself at Thanks

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Swachh Bhaarat (Clean India)

Toilets have been on my mind a lot lately. My house uses a septic tank system and had to be pumped recently, which got me interested in the idea of domestic waste and what happens to it. I've just returned from India where, inspired by PM Modi's commitment to cleanliness, there were ubiquitous signs exhorting people not to urinate in public. The thought that was foremost on my mind was "fair enough, but where CAN we urinate?." It was not apparent if there were any structural solutions underway..

It is not as if we want to urinate and defecate in public. Mr. Tharoor mentioned in an interview recently that in a particular village in Uttar Pradesh, 60 to 70% of households with a toilet preferred to defecate in the fields and that there was a cultural bias against toilets. I do not know about that, but most people I know from different walks of life prefer to be discreet when attending to their personal business rather than not. It is just that, if you find yourself in a situation where you have to go, there is no other option. It is as if the country operates on the principle that no one needs to pee or poop.

This mentality is pervasive. The developers who build commercial establishments do not set aside some space for toilets. The offices and educational institutions have really bad toilets. I believe this to be true for most buildings which a common man has access to. If you leave home without attending to your business the available options are few and you will not emerge unscathed from the experience.

Population effect
The massive influx of people into cities with limited infrastructure has compounded the issue. It is common to find makeshift settlements on pavements or on the sides of the road or wherever there is some empty space. These are made of largely temporary structures put up by the scrappy folks with whatever material they had access to. But one thing you will NOT find in these settlements are bathrooms. It is anybody’s guess as to what these poor souls have to do meet their some of their most basic life needs for sanitation. Paul Ehrlich’s doomsday predictions resulting from overpopulation have not materialized in the affluent West, but he would preen with pride seeing the population caused sanitation problems in India.

Sewage and Public Health Crisis
I recently saw a rather gut wrenching episode of the documentary series Vice, where they covered the dire water and sanitation situation in India. Though some households have an indoor toilet with plumbing, the plumbing does not go very far. It vents the raw sewage and other domestic waste into mostly open channels right outside the homes. A human being has to ensure that these open channels do not get clogged with some very rudimentary tools like sticks, brooms etc. The channels contribute to an omnipresent stench not to mention a very fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes and other bugs.

Even in places where there are underground pipes for drainage, the problem is only one step further removed. I am not aware if and how any sewage treatment happens, but the fate of Musi river in Hyderabad indicates that these treatment plants even if they exist are not very effective. The aforementioned documentary episode also shows raw sewage being dumped into Yamuna river. The very same river water is used for several other purposes.

To complicate matters further there aren’t separate sewers for domestic use and for rainwater. During heavy rains, the underground pipes are quickly overwhelmed and the domestic sewage finds its way onto the streets, mixed with rain water, polluting the sources of drinking water and causing water-borne diseases.

All of this untreated sewage makes for one of the biggest public health challenges ever faced by humanity

No Easy Solutions
The squat toilet does not work very well with the modern Indian male attire of pants (or even dhoti for that matter) and shoes. The way we expect to cleanse ourselves after defecation makes water indispensable to the notion of a toilet. And water we do not have. The porta-potty, though filthy, mostly does the trick in the West, by containing the waste. But that would not work in India, unless we fundamentally rethink the whole act and the attendant cleansing procedures. Also, in the absence of a structural solution to deal with the waste after the porta-potty is full, they are not worth the waste that they generate.

The scale of the problem boggles the mind. Yet, there has to be a solution. There were pioneers in the field in the past. Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International comes to mind. A comprehensive approach with underground sewage pipes, sewage treatment plants, separate storm and domestic sewers, widespread availability of clean toilets, even if only on a pay-to-pee basis to start with, access to toilets for people in unstructured settlements is need of the day.

Swachh Bhaarat is a laudable goal, but in order for it to go beyond sloganeering, a strong commitment to upgrade sanitation as a fundamental human right is needed. Instead of “Do not urinate here” signs, there should be ubiquitous “Pls. Urinate here” signs that point to clean sanitation facilities.

I am eager to contribute to any efforts on the ground that work on this issue in India and I would appreciate any pointers.

On the lighter side
I remember the barber in the store in front of our house in Hyderabad would take a single small bowl of water and rush to the nearby hillock on a bicycle when he had to attend a nature’s call. With that single bowl, it is not hard to imagine the limited amount of cleansing he can accomplish. Now, this is a person who has to work intimately with people’s heads and faces as a part of his job. I wouldn’t want to be the guy who gets a shave or a haircut right after he gets back.

Of the 17 games played so far, only one team successfully defended a <300 target (BAN against the minnows AFG).  Ireland chased down 278 and even 304.

This is a high scoring World Cup.  Look at the scores one could be forgiven for assuming that this is being played on Indian pitches!

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Passing thru Sitanagaram...

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Now, I'm REALLY done. Peace... V

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This reminds me of the ongoing elections.

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