The announcement of Padma Shri to 71-year-old M Subburaman from Trichy city has put NGOs and social workers here in an upbeat mood. The award was in recognition of his efforts of over 20 years in building more than 1.2 lakh toilets across India. Subburaman pioneered and propagated the concept of ecological sanitation (EcoSan) toilets, a crucial reason for the prestigious recognition.
Although Subburaman started his NGO Society for Community Organisation and People’s Education (Scope) in 1986, he realized the importance of sanitation and hygiene only in 1996. Since then, the NGO restricted its key focus area to sanitation and constructed over 1.2 lakh toilets in more than seven districts of Tamil Nadu and over eight states including Gujarat and Rajasthan.
EcoSan toilets were introduced in water abundant Musiri, Trichy, in 2006 by Subburaman as conventional toilets involving septic tanks may pollute groundwater. EcoSan toilets are waterless toilets that have two chambers. Each chamber will have three different pans, one to urinate, one to defecate, and the other to wash body parts. Instead of flushing with water, after defecating in EcoSan toilet ash or sawdust has to be sprayed over the fecal waste to eliminate the water content. The opening through which fecal matter falls to the pit below the pans will be closed. Then the fecal waste will be let to dry and decompose to become manure. Once the pit beneath the pan is filled, the other chamber will be used. The filled pit will be removed after months to be used as manure. “A unique feature of EcoSan is that the toilet can serve both water surplus and water-deficient localities. I personally experimented with the toilet before advocating in rural localities,” Subburaman said.
Through his efforts, sanitation parks displaying various types of toilets have come up in Trichy and Chennai suburbs. During the recent Covid-19 lockdown, Subburaman along with local metal fabricators designed pedal-operated handwash basins and placed them in government offices.
He has also converted several abandoned borewells as rainwater harvesting pits in the district. His house in Ramalinga Nagar has the capacity to store 10,000 liters of rainwater for reuse. “Constant innovation drives me to stay active. We need to focus more on access to water, sanitation, and hygiene to develop a healthy society,” Subburaman added. Being a vocal supporter in establishing more urinals and public toilets under the smart cities mission programme, Subburaman said that he will continue to focus on building environment-friendly toilets for developing a healthy generation