No dirty business: there is profit in toilets

  • M Rajendran, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 01, 2014 23:32 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Swachh Bharat” campaign is a dream with a big spin-off — a large amount of money will go into making India clean.

For instance, in the key focus area of building toilets for children in schools across the country, the government is committed to spending an estimated Rs 1.96 lakh crore.

There is, however, already a discrepancy in the demand for toilets specified in schools by the Centre and the demand projected by the local administration.

Sample this. The human resource development ministry projects the demand of toilets in school for Leh district at 41, while the district administration has sent a requisition for 191 toilets.

This is one campaign in which commerce will be the backroom player as social and economic growth along with image take centre stage.

Read: 15 diseases India can stamp out by improving sanitation

“The money has already been accounted for in the Union Budget 2014,” says Laveesh Bhandari, chief economist of Indicus Analytics, a Nielsen India company.

With the government planning to construct 20 million toilets by 2019, construction companies will see a major share of the action.

The results or the benefit may not be visible in data collated by the government till next financial year 2015-16.

But these 20 million toilets will also need to be maintained.

While private and public sector units, involved in construction of toilets in India estimate the cost of building a toilet at minimum of Rs 4-5 lakh, the government has allocated about Rs 1.6lakh per toilet for 2014-15. The budgeting does not include the maintenance cost of these toilets.

This is an area the government cannot leave unexamined.

Low-cost alternatives are not sustainable. The toilets, without water and proper drainage and disposal system can be counterproductive.

Read: Broom with a view: Why we need Clean India campaign

Public sector company Hindustan Prefab Ltd (HPL) has come with solutions to meet the targets of providing toilets in all 1.3 million the schools in India, but pricing is an area of concern.

“We can do it within the prescribed time. But not at the cost prescribed, it is simply not viable,” says Rajesh Goel, chairman and managing director, HPL.

Construction of toilets, maintenance and managing them essentially makes for new employment opportunities.

HPL is all set to construct and operate around 2,500 to 3,000 toilets in schools across the country for over 20 public sector companies. “Constructing toilets is not the difficulty, but maintaining it. We want to train the school administration to maintain it, clean and usable,” says Goel.

Here is a window of opportunity for entities such as Sulabh International and public sector companies like HPL. The employment generation, even if for short period, will help boost the services industry.

Major corporate bodies have already committed to spend the 2% of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) fund to build toilets in schools and in the country. The amounts promised for this purpose range from a Rs 1 to about Rs 1,000 crore.

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