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Sewer Cleaning Machines

By Bibhuti Jha

In the age of technology and innovation where India is also showing its prowess by space missions like Mangalyaan and Chandrayaan, the headlines of Indian newspapers continue to plague with news of its citizens meeting their death in the dark holes of sewer lines and septic tanks.

The National Commission for Safai Karamchari states that one person has died every 5 days while cleaning sewer lines since January 2017. If we speak about Delhi alone, statistics reveal that 612 people have lost their lives since 1993. This is appalling and alarming for the country which aspires to be a superpower.

There are various socio-economic factors that have led to incidents of these causalities across India.

The rapid expansion of Indian cities, both vertically and horizontally, has put tremendous pressure on the civic departments for keeping pace with the demands of the exponentially increasing population, in providing basic sanitation amenities. Although the cities are planned with the sewerage system, at times it becomes difficult for the services to reach the overcrowded areas as the big bulky machines cannot enter the narrow streets and lanes. Thus, the manual intervention of sewerage maintenance becomes a necessity.

Should we not raise the question that who are the people who risk their lives by getting down to sewerage system without any protection and training for a paltry daily wage? Most of them have two common factors which force them to take up the labor work.

The first factor is the caste. Across India, the Safai Karamcharis come from certain castes which have been burdened for centuries with the task of manual scavenging. The second factor is poverty.

The alarming questions are:

  • Should a human being continue the profession where his self-respect and dignity are denied?
  • Should a human being risk his life for providing basic sanitation services?
  • Should the caste system continue to be a barrier in human development?
  • Should the Indian cities continue to witness human deaths in sewerage maintenance?

The fact is that the law of the land deems the practice of employing human labor in sanitation activities as illegal. Since 1948, various committees and governments have been advising the abolition of manual scavenging. However, it was only in 2013 that “Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act” was enacted to address the grim situation of Safai Karamcharis. The act forbids the employment of any person for the task of manual scavenging by any agency or individual. As picking up untreated human excreta is harmful to one’s health and hygiene, the act seeks to completely ban the practice. The act lays down the rules and procedure for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers through training in alternate employment, financial help, and help with purchasing a property.

Delhi witnessed 11 deaths in 2017 during sewerage cleaning activities. With a resolve to put an end to these accidents, an emergency meeting was called by Delhi’s Chief Minister. It was directed to deploy 200 nos. of machines to carry out the entire work of sewer cleaning and to entirely avoid manual labor in the process so that such causalities do not occur again. In an attempt to improve the sanitation services and making it an organized structure and most of all eradicating the appalling act of manual scavenging, the State Government of Delhi, through Delhi Jal Board (DJB), undertook an exemplary and unique initiative to develop a viable socio-economic solution to address all the evils related to Safai Karamchari activities.

DJB delegated a team for developing a sanitation maintenance model and a solution to the problem suited to the narrow streets/lanes of Delhi. The team of DJB engineers led by Bhupesh Kumar SE (SDW) III and V.K. Grover EE (SDW) VI designed a prototype which is technologically advanced and equipped with all functions that are required at a site for sewer maintenance. It is designed to meet the specific requirement of maneuvrability in the overcrowded narrow streets and lanes of Delhi. The machine was tested successfully and on 23rd March 2018, DJB invited a tender for deployment of 200 nos. of specially fabricated tailor-made sewer cleaning machines for cleaning of sewer lines in such narrow streets/lanes.

Technical Specifications of Sewer Cleaning Machines
This is one-of-its-kind, totally mechanized, specially fabricated, and tailor-made sewer cleaning machine having three major components: Jetting System, Grabbing Arrangement, and Rodding System.

All the above components have been mounted on a vehicle having a minimum output of 65 HP@3200 RPM.

  • Hydraulically-driven jetting unit is capable of de-chocking and de-silting sewer line by using the principle of hydrodynamic cleaning by injecting high-pressure water into the lines through a suitable dimensional sewer jetting hose and special cleaning nozzle.
  • The machine also consists of hydraulically operated grab-bucket arrangement, specially designed to quickly and safely clean out the silt and other waste matter from manholes from the depth of about 30 feet without needing man entry. Grab fork has 15-liter capacity.
  • The machine is equipped with hydraulically operated hopper to collect silt and waste material with a capacity of 150 liters.
  • The machine is also equipped with trolley-mounted rodding machine for removal of elements like plastic bag, cotton, grassroots, etc from the sewer line. The rodding is driven by 0.5 HP 220 V single-phase, reversible induction motor through reduction gearbox and belt. The electrical power for driving the motor is taken from hydraulic-driven alternator mounted on the chassis. The steel rods are made of specially designed flexible steel rod of chrome vanadium material section of 8 mm dia and one meter long.
  • For the jetting purpose, a water storage tank is made of 2 mm thick stainless steel (SS 304) having capacity of 1500 liters.
  • The capacity of jetting pump is 122 LPM to 153 LPM at a pressure of 130 to 160 bar.
  • The existing hose reel has been designed to accommodate 60 + 60 meters of jetting hose.

This is truly a turning point, a fusion of technology and a solution for the transformation of scavengers to be entrepreneurs. The socio-economic impact is immense and far-reaching with improved living standards and pulling up people from low castes out of stigma which they have faced until now. Most importantly, no mother should lose her child anymore. No wife should lose her husband anymore. And no family should lose their loved one anymore!

About the Author
Bibhuti Jha is a situational author, an IMT and IIFT alumni, working towards the recycling and reuse of liquid and solid waste.

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