India has a problem with the toilet. They don’t have enough of them.
That means hundreds of millions of people in this country have to defecate outside, increasing the risk of the spread of diseases such as cholera, typhoid and even Covid-19. Poor sanitation in India has resulted in more than 126,000 deaths annually from diarrheal diseases.
About 344 million people in India do not have regular toilet access – that is, one in four Indians use the toilet around.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to address this existential problem through a program called Swachh Bharat, or Clean India, which began in 2014 in an effort to prevent indiscriminate defecation through promoting construction. build millions of toilets. The program has had remarkable results, but challenges remain. Among them is the deterioration and rapid deterioration of these public toilets.
Though made of concrete, porcelain and metal, they all degrade quickly, fall apart and rust. After only a year of being in use, most toilets were filled with waste, partially ripped apart, clogged or some combination of the three. That makes investments go to a dead end and people have to go out to solve their “sadness”.
Women and girls are forced to change their daily routine around this lack of toilets. Women wake up before the sun rises to go to the bathroom to avoid prying eyes, harassment, or risk rape. When there are no functional toilets or tampons at school, girls will have to go home for the day or drop out of school entirely during the period.
Four boys pass by one of the rotting community toilets in the slums of Faridabad, India.
But a new hope has come, like the light at the end of a tunnel. Midha, a 37-year-old former software engineer, has spent the past five years developing what he hopes will be a better public toilet.
Through his tech startup, he created toilets that are the same size as old toilets, but made of steel to be vandal-resistant, easier to clean, and able to withstands heavy use without degradation. Its complex models even include real-time sensors to monitor hand washing, water usage and toilet flushing. That data will provide local health officials with valuable sanitation information and ensure facilities can operate stably.
Midha’s company is located not far from the slums, employing only 29 workers, named Garv (or “dignity” in Hindi). Its size is small compared to a country of 1.3 billion people, but last month celebrated the 1,000th installation of its products. These toilets are mainly located in community areas, schools and outside government buildings, with around 200,000 people using them daily, of which 60,000 children are in school.
One of the stainless steel automatic toilets – Garv Toilets – at the Pragati Maidan convention center in New Delhi, India.
To ensure “survival” in India, Garv toilets have an unattractive appearance and are made of bare concrete. But inside, it’s like a “spaceship”.
Its walls are shiny stainless steel, with metal accessories ranging from toilets, urinals, sinks to faucets. The outside doors were also metal, like a safe in a bank cellar. The green imitation grass strips along the wall break the boredom, creating its own aesthetic.
Some of the popular features in this toilet are automatic toilet and automatic wash taps. However, it is even more advanced than public toilets in the US, when inserting a SIM card and sensor to provide real-time data on water usage, flushing and maintenance into the air conditioning system. controls by Garv.
“You can get a lot of data. For example, knowing how many people use the toilet, how many flushes, how many actually wash their hands and if there are any problems, such as a clogged toilet or running out of water “, Neha Goel, senior project manager at Garv, shares.
Some features are integrated in Garv’s smart toilet: steel doors, solar power, waste treatment, automatic washing …
Of course, in the early stages of construction, some toilets still have errors such as lights automatically turning off too quickly in a disabled room, automatic floor cleaning sometimes overflowing and auto flushing urinals. cannot be activated. But Garv can repair and improve his toilet quickly.
Another issue to deal with is cost. These special features are not cheap. A toilet with a metal case can cost anywhere from $ 2,400 to $ 4,900, about 25% more than traditional models. However, Midha says having low maintenance costs will offset those large upfront payments.
Garv’s toilets will be customized to include various features. Cheaper models are installed in simpler steel, without built-in sensors. Some include solar panels for lighting and models that cannot connect to existing wastewater systems will use biological deodorizers to convert waste into fertilizer.
But all of this technology still requires maintenance to keep the toilet clean and functional. Midha worked to get maintenance contracts for the toilets he built to prevent degradation from happening. Of his 1,000 installed structures, he says about 680 toilets are regularly maintained by the government or contractors, while 422 of them have real-time monitoring.
Mayank Midha, founder and CEO of Garv Toilets.
But this company is not a charity either. Midha doesn’t shy away from these facts, saying it is helping its business grow, adding that it’s made for profit to be sustainable and not dependent on grants.
Crafting a steel structure was easily copied by competitors, so Midha added real-time motion and water flow sensors and other technological features to make a difference. for your product. He developed a prototype in 2015 and started making it public.
The first two and a half years were extremely difficult. Government officials, once approved to concrete and brick toilets, disliked the idea that Midha’s steel structure was a toilet.
“People asked us if it was a phone booth or something”, Midha said.
Outside a row of Garv’s toilets in a rural Indian town.
Always a tinkerer, Midha developed new features to address the crisis brought about by coronavirus. He added UV lighting to the toilet to help disinfect them between uses.
However, the pandemic also slowed down the installation of new Garv products. Midha had to cut wages and postpone some hiring during the recession caused by the pandemic. But month by month, he is still stepping up his projects.
“It’s hard to imagine that a public school with 1,500 children, a girls high school, doesn’t have any toilets”, I said. “It’s good to see the smiles on the girls’ faces when they see the handy sanitary wares in their school. As part of the business, but if it’s making some impact. society, or improving life in some way, it also brings satisfaction to us. “