Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

How India's first unmanned, self-cleaning e-toilets work

Made by Kerala-based Eram Scientific Solutions, the toilets work on sensor-based technology and are maintained and monitored remotely using GPRS

Published: Apr 16, 2019 12:31:15 PM IST
Updated: Apr 16, 2019 01:40:13 PM IST

How India's first unmanned, self-cleaning e-toilets workSiddeek Ahmad, chairman and MD, Eram Scientific, at an eToilet in New Delhi
Image: Amit Verma

In a country where open defecation and maintaining toilets remains an issue, self-cleaning, portable and eco-friendly eToilets come as an affordable option. Made by Eram Scientific Solutions, a Kerala-based company, eToilets are India’s first unmanned electronic public toilets.

The toilets, which work on a sensor-based technology and have a self-clearing and water conservation mechanism, are maintained and monitored remotely using a GPRS-enabled system.

“These are unmanned toilets with an automated access control. There is a remote diagnosis and management through web reports. Waste processing is done through the attached STP (sewage treatment plant),” says Dr Siddeek Ahmed, chairman and managing director, Eram Scientific, which started providing them on a commercial basis in 2010.

The first unit was installed in Kozhikode in Kerala, after a movement over lack of toilets by saleswomen working in shops prompted the corporation to approach Eram.

Since then, Eram Scientific has installed over 3,000 eToilets in India and abroad. Buyers of the eToilets include Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Tata Consultancy Services, Kerala Women’s Development Corporation, municipal corporations, panchayats, and cantonment boards. “On World Toilet Day 2018, Indian Railways introduced eToilets in train coaches. While companies like TCS have bought these eToilets as a part of their CSR activities,” says Ahmed.

The price of eToilets ranges from ₹2 lakh to ₹20 lakh for different variants including those for the differently abled.

Clients can also choose between coin-operated entry and free access to the toilet. Most government and corporate clients choose coin-operated entry (usually Re 1) to avoid misuse while for use in government schools free access is preferred. In rural areas, these toilets are also being funded by MPs, MLAs and local panchayats.

The unmanned toilets need to be maintained for which Eram has an annual maintenance contract Plan (AMC). “The maintenance cost per month starts from ₹3,500 (without manual cleaning), while the comprehensive AMC rate is ₹5,100 per month/per unit which covers technical maintenance, web support, physical cleaning at periodical intervals, replacement of spare parts and components, and insurance costs.”

Initially, it was a tough job to convince people in rural areas to use the toilets. “Other challenges we faced were vandalism, an attitude of apathy by the public towards public utility systems, lack of ownership from certain customers, difficulties in getting utilities maintained and a serious shortage of  experienced manpower for working in the toilet sector,” says Ahmed.

But over the years they have tweaked the model based on user feedback as well as created more awareness. A pictorial representation of “how to use” is provided outside the eToilets. “We have also set up a 24-hour helpline to guide and assist users,” says Ahmed.

The company has also launched an eToilet app as part of establishing a new Connected eToilet Infrastructure. The app can help one can locate the nearest eToilets via maps and address listings.

“In future we’re going to partner with Saudi Arabia for equipping the country with sustainable sanitation solutions. And we are reaching out to more GCC countries to develop comprehensive sanitation solutions,” says Ahmed.

(This story appears in the 26 April, 2019 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)