The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, the country's premier nuclear research institute, has moved a step away from its core function and found a low-cost solution to deal with the country's ever-increasing problem of recycling sludge.
It has developed a technology for converting sludge - having 99% water and 1% human waste - into compost for use as low-cost good quality organic fertilisers in farms. The technology has been successfully demonstrated at the centre's Mumbai office.
The country generates about half a million tonnes of sludge, including 0.12 million of fecal waste, daily - with not more than 30% being treated before it is dumped into water bodies. Untreated sludge contaminates water bodies and degrades the soil. Even civic bodies in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai can treat only half of the sludge generated, and the rest is dumped into water bodies directly.
Municipal bodies have adopted sewage treatment plants (STPs) to deal with sludge, but many of them have not been able to deal with it efficiently. "We can make STPs more effective through the use of this technology," said Lalit Varshney in a presentation to Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia recently. "The quality of compost generated is very good, as it is a rich source of organic carbon for soil conditioning."
The biggest advantage of this technology, however, is its low cost. Through it, sludge generated by around a million people can be converted into compost at a cost of Rs 5.6 crore - also covering the capital cost of the technology. The life span of the plant is around 30 years, Varshney said.
Though plan panel officials said they would recommend the system to municipal bodies that face sludge-treatment problems, but raised safety issues over the use of radiation.