Kolkata, India: A coin is dropped into the slot and you don’t even have to utter “Khul Ja Sim Sim”—the door to the eToilet slides open.
Lights and exhaust fans come to life without your having to grope for switches.
In case you forget to flush, the automated flush turns on and sterilizes the commode too.
These are unmanned electronic public toilets that are making their presence felt in India thanks to Eram Scientific Solutions Pvt. Ltd. Dr. Siddeek Ahmed, Chairman and Managing Director of Eram/ITL Group is a visionary.
Based in Kerela, the tech firm primarily focuses on water and sanitation technology — lacking of which are two of the most precarious drawbacks facing India.
In a nation of over 1.3 billion around 626 million people —the highest number in the world—continue to defecate in the open, as they don’t have access to toilet facilities.
Of the built toilets, 34 percent are so filthy and unhygienic that no one can use them.
Only 18 percent of schools have separate toilets for girls. It is no wonder then that many girls absent themselves from school during their menstruation.
Statistics from the NGO CRY indicate that 38 percent of schools in India do not have basic sanitation facilities.
While the world is finding innovative strategies for cleaner sanitation, India appears to be stuck in the Dark Ages. Sanitation continues to be a taboo subject, something Indians totally avoid.
“And then I thought about the potential of IT to circumvent this unspeakable issue,” says Dr. Ahmed.
“I knew that if technology is used in a smart way, it could resolve the problem and provide a fundamental necessity to hundreds of people.”
With this in mind, Dr. Ahmed forayed into the highly nascent and neglected Indian public sanitation sector.
Eram Scientific Solutions Pvt. Ltd. (ESS) was conceived to work on innovative solutions for improved public sanitation.
Despite the lack of an enabling framework, focused industrial activities, infrastructure, or competent manpower, ESS ventured into developing sanitation solutions using the convergence of modern technologies.
The result was India’s first unmanned Electronic Public Toilet that is portable, hygienically maintained, and eco-friendly—the eToilet. The eToilet works on a sensor-based technology.
The self-cleaning and water conservation mechanism in the toilet makes it unique. An instruction note pasted outside the toilet helps a potential user get familiarized with the functioning of the toilet.
Once a user puts a coin in the slot, the eToilet door opens and a sensor-based light system is automatically turned on. Audio commands direct the user.
To conserve water, the eToilets are programmed to flush 1.5 liters of water after three minutes of usage and 4.5 liters if the usage is longer.
This smart toilet also washes the platform after every 5 or 10 usages. Although the eToilet is self-cleaning and automatic, people sometimes litter the place or use the eToilet incorrectly.
To deal with this, Eram has a service team that conducts periodic maintenance and repair visits to the toilets.
All the eToilets are connected over a GPRS network. The web interface at Eram’s control center keeps track of the performance of the e-toilets and collects data regarding usage, downtime, usage charges collected, etc.
“This provides accountability of the for-public-use infrastructure and provides the opportunity to municipalities to check usage patterns in real-time,” says Dr. Ahmed.
E-TOILETS IN INDIA IS A STEP TO END SANITARY DARK AGE WHERE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF INDIANS — HIGHEST IN ANY COUNTRY — STILL DEFECATE IN THE OPEN (IMAGE VIA THE BETTER INDIA)
The basic model of the eToilet designed for educational institutions costs 1 lakh.
The version made of stainless steel that is better for public use comes for 4.5–5 lakhs. Many of the toilets are funded by legislators or by governance bodies such as panchayats (Local Self Governments) or municipalities.
“Of course there are challenges,” Dr. Ahmed says. “The foremost was getting people to understand the eToilet. They are so used to the idea of a mop and a cleaning lady, that they find it difficult to believe the eToilet could actually work.”
Another challenge was finding appropriate sites.
The eToilet needed to be easily accessible but also not too close to a crowded area, difficult in a crowded city!
Disruptions in power supply tended to affect the smooth functioning of eToilets, although some backup power is available through solar power.
To sustain this innovative idea, regular research and development were a necessity. This is when Marico Innovation Foundation’s (MIF) Social Innovation Acceleration Foundation Program came in with a helping hand.
“We were facing a challenge in scaling up and getting a hold of the private market. MIF gave us interesting ideas and the support to do so,” Dr. Ahmed says.
MIF mobilized students of XLRI Jamshedpur to prepare documentation for the sanitation project and brainstorm on how it could be improved.
The most important part played by MIF was to provide value engineering and to help Eram come up with improved versions of the eToilets.
MIF’s intervention in Eram’s case has helped not only market the technology but also develop the product as per the needs of the users.
To date, 2500+ eToilet units are set in India and over 200 Sewage Treatments Plants have been set up across 14 states in India.
The company’s sanitary hygiene network has a pan-India presence across 23 states, where the e-toilets are used by over 15k+ user daily, clocking to some 12 million plus users to-date.
The concept of eToilets has been recognized with over 35 awards, both national and international. The eToilet concept proves that the intelligent use of technology can solve many of our problems.