Pump Up: Towards Achieving Financial and Environmental Sustainability Among Privately Operated Desludging Businesses in India

Anindita Mukherjee, Shubhagato Dasgupta, Kshitij Jaiswal, Arushi Gupta

Academic and Action Research


While India’s largest cities have centralised sewage systems, complete with underground pipes, pumping stations, and treatment plants (Chaturvedi, 2017), the presence of sewer systems in the country has been limited, despite the focus of national programmes like AMRUT on the provision of the same. In the absence of a universal sewerage network, there is an increased reliance on On-Site Sanitation (OSS) systems. Many Indian cities are witnessing mushrooming of small-scale entrepreneurs who are addressing the demand for desludging and disposal of the collected faecal sludge from the existing and the newly constructed toilets under the SBM, majority of which are connected to OSS systems. These entrepreneurs provide services ranging from emptying/desludging the OSS systems, transporting the collected faecal sludge, and operating treatment facilities for the same. However, in most cases, private sector participation (PSP) in the FSM sector is laced with informality and unsafe practices like indiscriminate open dumping of faecal sludge, disuse of personal protective gears and standardised equipment, among other. Hence there is a looming need to account for the steady mushrooming of the informal private sector and analyse the prevailing business practices in this market. The existing models of service delivery across regions are diverse and exclusive, which cannot be encompassed in national policies which recommend standardised solutions. It has also been observed that local governments have a limited understanding of the prevailing gaps in their unique sanitation ecosystems, and the specific synergies that private partnerships can achieve. The situation is further complicated with recent programmes advocating for a one-size-fits-all approach. This report envisages to contribute towards an enabling environment for private entrepreneurs, which will require localised policies and programmes, pertaining to specific requirements of Page 6 of 8 the city/state, as determined by the ULBs. Through an analysis of the prevailing practices in the formal and informal markets of desludging businesses, this report outlines recommendations pertaining to economic, planning and management decisions undertaken by the ULBs, working in tandem with private entrepreneurs. These recommendations are based on the underlying principles of financial and environmental sustainability, to contribute towards outcomes that facilitate efficiency and enable these markets to further the agenda of universal sanitation service delivery.