Bringing Himalayan cities closer: Water & Wastewater workshop

Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG) in collaboration with Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh, Bremen Overseas Research & Development Association (BORDA), Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) India Chapter, and National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) New Delhi organised a twoday workshop on ‘Peer Exchange and Expert Talk on Water and Wastewater in Hill Town-Hill’ on 25th and 26th October at Hotel Singge Palace Conference Hall. Chief Executive Councillor (CEC) LAHDC Leh Dorjey Mutup was the chief guest for the inaugural session. The other institutes to represent the workshop were Green Hills from Almora, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) from Mumbai, and Auroville, Puducherry.

Representatives from Himalayan towns such as Shillong, Gangtok, Almora, Dharamshala, Kargil, Leh and Biredranagar (Nepal) participated in the two-day workshop. The objective behind the workshop was to provide a platform for the Himalayan towns and cities to share their experiences to improve the essential public services. The workshop aimed at bringing together officials and stakeholders involved in managing public water supply and wastewater services in the Himalayan region.

The workshop gave participants the opportunity to hear from experts on water and wastewater, interact with peers from other towns with similar topography and climatic conditions, and also develop a platform/forum to learn and exchange knowledge. Susmita Singh, senior advisor from BORDA, was the moderator for the event. Rigzin Spalgon, Administrator of Municipal Committee Leh (MCL) gave the welcome speech and apprised the participants about the dependency of Leh town on glacial water, shift in lifestyle pattern of the people, necessary measures that need to be taken to cater to the needs of the increasing tourists in Leh.

It was followed by a speech from Tikender Singh Panwar, former deputy mayor of Shimla, who spoke about a collaborative approach to improve sanitation and water services in cities.  He made few recommendations: there should be strict enforcement of laws, the will of people from political background is needed for the proper management of the city, and checking the net cash flow in the mountain states. He said suggested that there should be a proper Vision Document and Master Plan to prepare a plan for the city.

Post-tea break, Ain Contractor from EcoPro, Auroville, spoke about eco-friendly technologies for the management of water and wastewater. She gave the example of EcoSan toilet, which is a closed system that does not need water. It is an alternative to leach pit toilets in places where water is scarce or where the water table is high and the risk of groundwater contamination is increased. The toilet is based on the principle of recovery and recycling of nutrients from excreta to create a valuable resource for agriculture. She questioned the need to use water to move human waste around and suggested that eco solutions should be adopted to reduce the consumption of freshwater.

The last presentation was made by Susmita Sinha, who spoke about wastewater management in hill towns. She informed the participants about the constraints in hill areas in planning, designing, construction, operation and maintenance of wastewater assets. She added that the designs of wastewater plant in mountains should be different from that in plain areas. She stressed on the need to adopt a hybrid of centralised and decentralised treatment solutions for hill areas and addressing both black and grey water together. She also requested the stakeholders to adopt a technology that requires less energy, has low operation and maintenance (O&M) charges and is eco-friendly.

CEC LAHDC Leh Dorjey Mutup congratulated the organisers and thanked them for conducting the workshop. He requested the participants to share the most important lessons they’ve learnt from the workshop with others. He also shared that participants from different hill states should come together and discuss different approaches to management of water & wastewater management.

The second day began for the participants with an exposure trip to the Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP) where Snehit Prakash, Coordinator and Project Manager, shared with them the details of the FSTP- how it was conceived, constructed and commissioned in a record time of 51 days with support from the district administration. Thereafter, the participants visited the public toilet at Zangsti where Pandurang Sagbhor, an architect, shared the design concept and different technologies used in construction of the toilet such as trombe wall, insulation and active heat gain mechanism.

Post-exposure trip, the participants assembled for another session wherein they were divided into groups. The groups were then asked to take their town as a case study and prepare its shit flow diagram on a template. Post- lunch, the participants provided water and wastewater service-level benchmarks and also shared the current status of water and their plans for the next five years. It was followed by a presentation from each group.