Sanchaita Gajapati Raju, a social entrepreneur by choice, has embarked on a journey of creating healthy environs through clean water-sanitation infrastructure in villages and government schools. The dream is being realized through technology
By Kavitha Srinivasa
A trained lawyer and political scientist, and media professional, Sanchaita Gajapati Raju had everything going in her favour. She joined the media company run by her parents — Uma Gajapati Raju, former Member of Parliament (MP) and activist filmmaker Ramesh Sharma. It seems unlikely but a hands-on exposure to a particular documentary film shot in Gulbarga in Karnataka became a life-altering decision. The documentary on agricultural practices for destitute farmers shook her from within as the film fleshed out their angst and struggle for livelihood, along with the harsh realities of rural life. Also seeing her mother Uma Gajapati Raju work in the remote tribal areas of Visakhapatnam, bringing Medicare to the underserved when she was MP inculcated a spirit of giving back in Sanchaita.
Sanchaita set out on a mission of improving the lives of the rural poor. A small but seminal thought in this direction is to scale up the water and sanitation infrastructure in the villages. The vision shaped up as SANA an acronym for Social Awareness, Newer Alternatives. Though Sanchaita grew up in Visakhapatnam, in Andhra Pradesh and Delhi, she has made Delhi the base for SANA, her public charitable trust that came into existence in 2011.
Ever since its inception, SANA has decided to leverage technology for social intervention. Technology has been chosen in order to standardize processes, achieve scale and overcome challenges related to sanitation. Technology is at the heart of the water and sanitation projects chalked out by SANA.
As founder of SANA, Sanchaita insists that the technology for treating the water is not rocket science but a means of making the project sustainable. Along with sustainability, carbon-neutrality is another concern. In its effort to make it a low energy project, the NGO began to tap solar energy. Tech tools and renewable energy have combined to give shape to the NGO’s water and sanitation project.
SANA’s social intervention efforts began in 2012 through its first water treatment plant in Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya (RPVV), a government school East Delhi. These are solar-powered micro ionizing water treatment plants. To break down the process, power comes from the overhead solar panels and the pump draws groundwater and saves it in overhead tanks. Sometimes the water plant draws water from a bore well. Either way, the water is purified through a treatment unit whereby purification happens through a combination of reverse osmosis (RO) process, solar power and UV and membrane system technology.
The end result is that the water plant can generate 1.8 million litres of clean water. This capacity takes care of the children’s water consumption while at school for a year. The children also have a choice of taking home a five-litre Can of clean water for the rest of the household free of cost. However, this option is feasible only if the child attends the classes on that day.
The solar-powered drinking water system with an annual capacity of 1.8 mn litres, complies with the World Health Organization (WHO) standards for improving drinking water. Since then, over 1,000 school children from economically backward homes are allocated five litres of water daily for their families, living in slums nearby.
Given its scale and consistency, it’s no surprise that the solar-powered drinking water system model caught the attention of the Delhi government which has joined hands with SANA. The Delhi government through the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) performs the role of a stakeholder. The outcome is to optimize water resources. With some brainstorming, the effort has taken the form of “Toilets & Taps-Transforming Lives Through Technology" where for the first time sewage water was converted into safe and pure drinking water. This project was commissioned in 2015 and with this innovative social intervention, Delhi now joins the select few cities that use recycled water as a source for drinking.
Government alliances result in public-private partnerships, whereby everyone involved in the project takes responsibility as stakeholders and has a sense of ownership towards the project.
At Sanchaita’s hometown in Vishakhapatnam, with the active support of the District Administration and local CSR funds, the Village Panchayat is roped in and the social interventions are rolled out as a private-public partnership. The VP has also contributed in terms of providing the source of raw water, apart from giving a roof for the solar panel. The VPs have a role to play in locating local healthcare providers, other than setting up a water sanitation committee. It’s a bottom-up approach whereby the beneficiaries are in the driver’s seat, transforming from recipients to being informed and responsible consumers.
The water-sanitation project has gone beyond clean sanitation to become a self-sustaining revenue generating model. The water sanitation committee has worked out price points as they have an option of selling clean drinking water to other villagers.
Even as the drinking water initiatives became a success, Sanchaita decided to channel her efforts and further put the precious and finite resource called water to much more effective use. She realized that providing clean drinking water was not the only solution, this needs to be backed by clean sanitation as well.
A growing concern led her on, till she officially set her sights on bio-toilets. Bio-toilets she felt is the answer to many practical hurdles faced in sanitation. These stink-free toilets do away with the human intervention and the complexities and discomfort involved in cleaning the septic tanks. It’s a low menial job rarely performed to perfection. No surprise that Bangalore-based Defence Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) cracked the code with its biodigester toilet technology. Looking back, DRDO had visualized these toilets for armed forces personnel posted in far off locations that don’t have a septic tank or access to a sewage network. DRDO’s answer to the problem lies in its range of toilets, whose USP is that bacteria break down human waste down into biogas and an odourless liquid. Consequently, both can be reused.
This innovative use of technology in the sanitation space seemed a perfect solution for SANA, more so as DRDO had made its toilet technology available for civilian use in recent years.
That’s how SANA set out to build community toilet complexes at the water treatment sites. By then the water-sanitation project had become operational in Delhi and Vishakhapatnam, where they are located in the off-grid and remote tribal locations. In both locations, these pre-fabricated toilets are low on maintenance and are illuminated with solar lights. The design eliminates a secondary waste disposal system. The wastewater generated from the water plant systems is used for flushing water in the toilets.
These water plant systems have two templates. Though both alternatives have a capacity of 1.8 mn litres, the wastewater from one set of water stations is used for 10 bio-toilets and the other option caters to 20 bio-toilets. So far, 32 such sites are ongoing both in Delhi and Visakhapatnam.
Working in Delhi and Andhra Pradesh has brought its fair share of challenges and requires an insight into local sensibilities. If the east Delhi school is associated with brackishness, the water in Tribal and Rural areas of Visakhapatnam has different contaminants. To overcome this, the raw water is tested before any solution is designed.
Attitude and approach have played a significant role in building SANA into what it is today. SANA’s design and conception of an Integrated Solar Powered Water Purifying Station cum Community Bio Toilets was one of the winners of the Google Global Impact Challenge in October 2013.
No surprise that its efforts got noticed on a global platform fetching it the $500,000 Global Impact Award. The award money will be utilized towards improving the water and sanitation infrastructure in the villages. Already Rs 30 million has gone towards the first phase of its innovative and unique social intervention - "SANA Surya Sujala Dhara and Haritha Bio Toilets" scheme which is part of the "Toilets & Taps - Transforming Lives Through Technology" programme.
The Google Grant gave SANA the much-required visibility. Oracle too came forward and is giving $100,000 yearly grant for the last three years. Both grants have been used to set up “SANA Surya Sujala Dhara and Haritha Bio Toilets and conduct workshops to train people.
Crystal Clear thoughts flow on. It’s intended to scale up the water and sanitation projects eventually covering 500 sites that include villages and schools under the SANA Surya Sujala Dhara and Haritha Bio – Toilets scheme.
SANA has been a lesson in personal growth for Sanchaita. The social entrepreneur has understood water management in its entirety, wherein every drop needs to be optimized for domestic needs and agriculture, apart from large-scale industrial consumption. Water management needs to trickle down to the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) whose hallmarks are clean water and sanitation.
Nagam Sattiraju, a 70-year-old resident of Chamavaram Village in Andhra Pradesh does not remember ever drinking anything other than brackish, salty water. SANA's solar-powered water treatment plant is like a miracle for him and his family. ''Water never tasted so fresh and sweet, '' he says.
Ashish Kumar, a Class VII student of RPVV School, has two sisters and his father is a rickshaw puller. He lives in the vicinity in Karkadooma and his dream is to become an Engineer. The 13-year-old student says, "We never had clean drinking water in the school or at home to drink Ever since this Water Plant has been installed we get to take home 5 litres of clean water for drinking every day. Thank you SANA. "