Yeh Galliyan: Stories of Secret Toilets, Sewer Lines and Hidden Septic Tanks

By Avinash Kaur Bons on March 12, 2020

 In 1976, 70,000 people from Janta Colony were resettled to Cheeta Camp. It took 43 years for the settlement to procure all the essential services and have a state of permanence in the camp. This Photo Essay details the various difficulties and challenges in creating a sanitation infrastructure in the settlement.

1. Map showing Gallis in Sector C, Cheeta Camp.

Cheeta Camp is situated on reclaimed land, which limits households from digging deeper than 3-4ft. due to creek water emancipation in any excavation. The households were given an area of 100-150 Sq.ft. during resettlement where the families-built ground floor and extended upto Ground+1, Ground+2, as and when their families expanded. Such a small area and sizable number of members in the family, tough topographical conditions make it difficult to have an individual toilet inside the house which concerns the state agencies.  While different state agencies see community toilets as the default sanitation service for the settlement, the residents have been actively constructing individual toilets for some time now. Some of the reasons for preferring individual toilets are the long waiting time (as long as 3 hours  to use the toilets in the morning on some days), unsanitary conditions of the toilets, apprehension in sending the children and women alone during the night and also difficulty for the elderly and ailing residents of the camp to use community toilets far away from their houses. In Cheeta Camp, building individual toilets is sometimes visible, sometimes invisible, tacitly acknowledged but not officially talked about act. Every Galli has been through a series of trials and errors to figure out the most suitable mechanism of sanitation. Sanitation is an ongoing project in these gallis, beset with several challenges. Our geographical focus is Sector C. The sector has 25 gallis (A-K gallis and C1-P gallis) with approximately 20-24 households each (Total no. of houses = 600 approximately). Every galli in the sector has adopted different mechanisms to provide themselves with individual toilets with the available networks. This has also meant increased problems for them sometimes yet the desire and the need to have a household toilet overrules the same.

 

 

2. Storm Water Drain running in the periphery of the Sector C, Cheeta Camp

3. Storm Water Drain running centrally through the Sector C, Cheeta Camp

While the municipal project of installation of sewer lines in this resettlement colony remains a pipe dream which has not been realised even forty years after the settlement took shape; several collective and individual projects of sanitation infrastructure are taking shape in this colony through local residents, contractors and collaborations with the local bureaucracy. A large, partly open drain that runs along the periphery of the sector C and another drain that passes centrally from the sector have enabled a number of household toilets in this sector. Storm water drains have thus become the default sewer lines.

 

4. Storm Water Drain passing through Galli B of Sector C

3-4 years ago, the households in the Galli B of Sector C, Cheeta Camp came together to install a drainage pipe to which every household toilet in the galli has been plugged. They collectively paid approximately 20,000-25,000₹ for the same. This also meant that some households had to change their toilet pans since new connections to the new drainage had to be established. This cost an additional ₹7000 per household. The new drainage line was a step taken to deal with the issue of an older line, constructed 3-4 years prior to the same which was broken by rodents, resulting in frequent choking and repairs. A complete haul of sanitation infrastructure in the galli was thus executed through a collective contribution.

 

5. Septic Tank maintenance being carried out in Galli D1, Sector C

In Galli D1, all the households have septic tanks. This galli is wider than many other gallis in Sector C, which is why many households have opted for a septic tank here. Hameed, a local contractor, brags about having built most of them since he stays in the same galli and has good relationships with most of his neighbours. I met Hameed when he was carrying out maintenance of one of the septic tanks in the galli for his friends’ house. The house and the one next to it had a community septic tank which was constructed 9-10 years ago. This was the first time in 9 years both the households had started facing problem due to the tank. It was monsoon and the tank was full, the groundwater had started seeping into the tank because of which the waste water and sewage reversed back filling the toilet pan. The septic tank was below the cemented galli surface, had no markers or outlets for gases etc and couldn’t be identified, but for the contractor who constructed it.

 

6. Partially open storm water drain and hidden piped connections passing through in Galli E

68-year-old Mehmuda and her family took the opportunity to put a separate pipe connection from their toilet to the main drain line for her house in Galli E, 4 years ago, when BMC was constructing the galli. A total cost of ₹ 25,000 was borne by them including the individual pipe connection and newer toilet seat. Undertaking this work when the galli was being constructed, helped her to save the cost that she would have incurred otherwise for breaking and then repairing the existing galli.

 

7. Open storm water drain and hidden piped connections passing through in Galli H

Every time the galli is reconstructed, everything gets disrupted as the galli is a multipurpose space –it is a path, a common space, and it is the carrier for water pipelines and storm water drains. Now this becomes a problem since these were not planned to be this way. 7-8 Households in Galli H installed a collective pipe connection from the household toilets to the drain line in 2005. Ten years later in 2015, the community again came together to install a new connection including the reconstruction of toilet and its plumbing system by contributing 15000₹ each. This was necessitated because in the span of ten years the galli was constructed four times, raising the ground level higher every time.
As if this was not enough, Mehrajunisa, a resident in the Galli H, Cheeta Camp and her neighbour, were forced to take charge of the pipe blockage of their galli in December 2018. The maintenance in-charge for the drains of BMC failed to send labour for cleaning the pipe blockage even after several complaints, whining that the Gallis water supply pipelines passed alongside the sewage pipes which created problems for them to clean the choked pipe and the gutter. Mehrajunisa and her neighbour, then took matters into their own hands. They forced their slippers into the pipes to remove the chokes which relieved them for 2-3 days. This was then followed by a disaster – the sewage water from toilets on the ground floors started backfiring into the toilet floor and flooring in the house. They hurriedly summoned local labourers, who demanded 3000₹-5000₹ for cleaning the pipes of three houses; this was difficult to mobilise instantly. Ultimately the cleaning work was done by the women themselves.

8. Galli I, having a mixed system of Septic Tanks for some and piped connections for others

In 2000, a group of 10-12 households in the Galli I came together to put up a pipeline in the galli to directly take the sewage from the toilets to the storm water drains which run around the sector. Each household contributed a share of 5000-6000₹ for the pipeline which now went 4-5ft deep in the galli. All the houses in this galli have toilets. Out of the 24 households in the galli there are 4 community septic tanks serving 8 households. Others either have individual septic tanks or have directly connected the toilet pipes to the existing central drain line. In a years’ time, BMC built the Galli I thrice, so the houses which were built 4ft high from the gallis are now approximately on the same level, which means that sewage water from the drain when it is choked, enters into their houses. Every 3-6 months the pipe that has been laid in the galli has to be cleaned so as to avoid sewage water making its way back to the toilets and house flooring.

9. Galli 11, Sector C, Cheeta Camp

Galli 11 has had a different experience. This galli had an open drain passing through it. Everyday there were fights between the neighbours over who had put the waste into this storm water drain causing it to be blocked. This led to the households deciding to close the drain and pack it so as to avoid these fights and also create a better path instead of hopping and skipping their way through the lane. Few months ago, the plan was initiated and completed only to encounter a newer problem. Three households in the galli decided to clean their septic tank by paying 400₹ each to the BMC cleaners. The tank was cleaned by means of a BMC suction machine vehicle by puncturing a hole into the tank because packing the drain had resulted in packing all the outlets of the septic tank into the drain. The waste water outlet and the gas outlets of the septic tank had been packed and there was no way other than making holes in their tanks to clean the tank. Mehronisa, from one of households, now says “Abhi kuch toh intezaam karna padega iska bhi, har baar todke nahi kar sakte aisa.”

10. Centrally passing drain through the sector C, with a perpendicular running drain of Galli K1

Three years ago, the councillor had helped the households in the Galli K1 to install a pipeline to connect the drain. Individual households were asked to get a connection for the toilet even if they didn’t have the capacity to build the toilet right away. Each household paid an amount of 2800₹ for the connection. The blockage of the pipe is a usual affair in this galli, but often goes unattended by the BMC which leads to households calling local labours for cleaning their pipe with each household spending 3000₹.

11. Households 2-3ft high in some of the Gallis due to the Septic Tanks underneath them

Amidst all these difficulties, challenges, the individual toilets in the households of Cheeta Camp and the sanitation system are produced, and being reworked continually.

 

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