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Wastewater treatment in rural India

Hi! I'm writing from Arghyam, Bangalore, which is a philanthropic trust focussing on water. We are interested in taking up domestic wastewater treatment in rural areas and would like to know about the existing wastewater treatment methods at household and cluster level in rural India. We would like to introduce wastewater treatment in a few villages of Karnataka if we find the process efficient, cost-effective and suitable for the area specific conditions. If any successful domestic wastewater treatment method prevails in rural India, it will be great to know the details of the treatment process, location, quantum of wastewater treated, population, cost, area and efficiency. We would also find very useful if people can share their impressions of the adoption of conventional wastewater treatment approaches like soak pits. Are these constructed according to prescribed standards, do the communities feel these are valuable and invest in maintaining them over time ? Mrinalini



1. Dear Mrinalini,   I will be

Dear Mrinalini,


I will be providing the possible answeres to your query as below:


  1. The best way to treat and use waste water (particularly-rural india-(as most of it from kitchen, utensil washings and bathing) is with the construction of 'kitchen gardens'. Kitchengardens basically plantation of few species of trees-vegetables in the backyard of any rural house. The plants absorb the water and therefore you will get ridoff from the nuisance of waste water flowing on the streets and on the otherway you will get vegetables. Since this water would not contain any toxicants (only have surfactants) may not creat much trouble. Therefore you can reduce the phosphates and Nitrates problems. It is very much prevailing in most of the villages of Southern India.

We in our villagesin Bundelkhand region also initiated.


  1. Aressting the complete wastewater of the households through a proper underground drainage and attaching with small sand Filters, would be a cheap treatment. After the treatment at the filter end, check the quality of water and the remaining water can be used for agriculture purpose. We ourselves did in one of our project villages-Rajpura in Bundelkhand.


  1. Root Zone Treatment: Bit costlier but relatively very good methid for waste water treatment. For this treatment method, you require considerable area-depending upon in ur volume. Village with a population of 250-300 households will apprx. cost 1.5 to 2 Lakhs.


There are certain species which absorb toxix substances of water and treat. Duckweeds are one of them.



4.      Through Soak Pits: Ofcourse, this is general and mostly used practices in our lives. These are cheap and best way of handling waste water. Maintenance is a problem as I often find these pits overflow sometimes if proper care is not taken. Therefore individuals should be made responsible.


Depending on the site conditions-geo-environmental factors, one should decide on the treatment techniques.


One thing we should keep in our mind that the drinking water sources should not be contaminated with any of these measures as drinking water is precious for all of us. 



If you are from South India-there is a plant called KANAKAMBARAM, which absorbs Nitrates from water. 


Please refer NEERI's publication on GREY WATER Management.




I think I am able to provide you some answeres; there are various indigenous methods which you can refer to.




M. Manoj Kumar

Programme Manager

Water Programme

Development Alternatives

New Delhi

2. Waste water treatment in rural India

Dear Mrinalini,

Most of rural India does not resort to any kind of waste water treatment.Where rural areas receive help from NGOs,there are treatment methods in use as can be seen from the 1st comment on your question from Mr.Manoj Kumar of Devpt.Alternatives.

Much of rural India does not appear to have toilets as the practice is open defecation in the fields.Root Zone or Reed Bed sewage treatment would be a simple,easy system,but requires a lot of land to install.It is when sewage comprising "black water" has to be treated that it becomes complicated.Mostly,rural India has " grey water" (1st para in Mr.Manoj Kumar's comment) that is treated with kitchen gardens.This can certainly not be done of waste water contains faecal matter.

In my opinion there are two options for rural India.The first option is to use the DEWATS (Decentralised Waste Water System),but, this implies that water will be used in toilets to flush away human excreta to a place where it can be treated.I am sceptical about water being available for disposal of faecal matter in rural areas.

Another option to consider seriously is that of Dry Composting Toilets.MYRADA, an NGO operating from Karnataka and well known to Arghyam has done some very useful work in Karnataka in promoting such toilets.


3. Wastewater treatment in rural India

Dear Vikas Khandelwal,

Waste- water generated either in a rural area or in urban habitats is similar in nature with some variance. Also just waste water treatment –WWT can be taken in isolation, it is needed to be seen more holistically with solid- waste, industrial effluents, rain- harvesting and others.

Our NGO- The Vigyan Vijay Foundation has had some experiences both in rural and urban sectors and in applying the concept of "waste to resource" and with community- stake holder participation.

Fairly we have reached total sustenance and with positive results.

We attach herewith our paper describing 9 cases of WWT- plants for providing information to members.

Click here to download:WWT Plants - 9 Cases

Members may please feel free to be in touch for any specific details, which we will provide.

With well wishes from Vigyan Vijay

Er. Ajit Seshadri
Secretary and Head- Environment & Energy
The Vigyan Vijay Foundation
New Delhi-110 045

4. Wastewater treatment in rural India

Please find attached a case study from a Punjab village, were the community have implemented a decentralised wastewater treatment system to treat the liquid waste from their households.

Also please find attached a case study from Asalthpur village in Uttarpradesh, were the villages have built a community ecosan toilet and reuse the waste as manure.

Click here: Ecosan Ghaziabad, Case Study - Kharoudi

Basically the per capita wastewater generation is on the lower side compared to the per capita wastewater generation from urban areas. Hence the centralised system adopted in urban area will not work in rural areas. Hence we have to adopt small scale reuse based decentralised system. In rural area due to lack of electricity we cannot go for energy intensive mechanical treatment systems also. Hence treatment systems like DEWATS or ECOSAN are ideal for rural conditions.

Thanking you

With regards

R. K. Srinivasan
Deputy Coordinator
Centre for Science and Environment
New Delhi

5. Wastewater treatment in rural India

Dear Mrinalini,

The state of Madhya Pradesh has developed, implemented and evaluated domestic and school based greywater reuse systems. The economic viability and social-health impact of the systems were assessed and results can be found in the attached publications:

   1. Microbiologically Quality and Health Impact - The paper describes the application of the Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA) technique to establish appropriate limits for simply water quality parameters in greywater (e.g. Thermotolerant Coliforms and Turbidity)
   2. Cost benefit analysis of greywater - The study indicates that the construction cost of a school greywater system is 50,300 RUPEES and the annual O&M cost is 5725 RUPEES, this gives an internal benefit cost of 30,000RUPEES per year. The total benefits far outweigh the external and internal costs.

The standards for these designs can be found in the book NEERI (2007) Greywater reuse in rural schools

Further advice can be souring from NEERI (Dr Pawan Labhasetwar


With regards,

Dr. Samuel Godfrey
Water and Environmental Sanitation Specialist
Water and Environmental Sanitation United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

6. Request for Information

For some reason the link to your post below is not working properly anymore. Do you think you could repost this link?

   2. Cost benefit analysis of greywater - The study indicates that the construction cost of a school greywater system is 50,300 RUPEES and the annual O&M cost is 5725 RUPEES, this gives an internal benefit cost of 30,000RUPEES per year. The total benefits far outweigh the external and internal costs.



Tanya Rodriguez
MUP Candidate 2010
Hunter College

7. Wastewater treatment in rural India


Dear Mrinalini,

It is a good idea.  Before introducing the system, we should understand purpose for which it is getting introduced.  We should also understand whether it is needed, or whether it will be followed up whether it is an easy to use, cost effective one that can get adoptable under our rural micro environment condition.

I have roamed, during my younger days, over nook and corner of many parts of South India, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Orissa and desert areas of Rajasthan, U.P. and West Bengal in providing and solving drinking water needs and providing simple easy to use and adoptable water resources management techniques and methodologies, for drinking and 
irrigation purposes.  In general this may not be required in the rural villages and I found each family as one of the most water efficient manager / unit in its own way.  May be it can be adopted in rural townships in a selected avenues.

Normally the wastewater in these villages are emanate from, about 98% from kitchen, if they family is having small tile or terrace building. You find such villages only in panchayat head quarters.

You find no waste water in hut dwelling colonies. Here they use open air kitchen system to about 90%. In such villages or clusters or dwelling, efficient water management takes place.  We can find kitchen gardens with flower plants or minor vegetable plants, in almost all the villages.  Only waste water is that emanate from bathing place. There also you can find some trees or Cash yielding plantation tree such as Banana, Coconut or Ginger, that can be noticed.  This is the condition where ever the villagers have to fetch water from traditional tanks / ponds and wells /hand pumps.  And even where the piped water is provided you find more utility for this kind and the micro-environment they used to live and the traditional culture that got threaded for generation among them.

One can find an most efficient use of water management in these demography.

But of late wherever you find piped water supply provided,  waste water emanate even under this panorama. Even that cannot be termed as sewage water and it is only spill away water.  In such condition as pointed out by others, Choke pit can be provided to recharge strait away without any treatment.

But more thatn70% of village uses open ground for defecation and bath in traditional tanks/ ponds/canals. Hence the availability has to be studied before you get into the particulars and select depending up on the feasibility, even such treatment tolls come to your hand.

We find sewage cum waste water only in rural townships, where the elite among the rural people migrate and live.  In such small Rural towns, your concept can be adopted.  The waste water is mainly come out from the kitchen and bathing water. Eco-sanitation procedure along with SPHERE can be adopted in these rural towns.  

A master design may not be suitable.  If it is for individual house hold then a common one can be adopted which has flexibility and leverage for the amount of input of waste water.   An NGO, SCOPE near Thiruchirappally is well with this work and they can be approached for a replica of waste water treatment.  Such system had also got introduced in in lagte 90s and early 2000, in coastal belt of Kerala.  You can find these slow sand filtration domes and adoption of EM “( Effective Microbes) technology.

These villages are spread in the Allapy and border of Ernakulam Districts in Kerala.  You send some of your staff and collect the information and I hope much improvement might have taken place by this time. Most of the villages adopted by the local NGO have given these awareness and training programme to clusters and the same can be replicated in your mission also.  Hence your vision has to be very clear as it involves monetary utilization.


With best wishes,

A.    Raja Mohamed Ambalam

Coastal Energy Pvt Ltd





8. Dear Mrinalini,   Soak pit

Dear Mrinalini,


  1. Soak pit is for the disposal of waste water through leaching in soil, it is not for the treatment of waste water.
  2. There are two technologies suitable for rural areas. (a) DEWATS (Decentralised waste water treatment system) and (b) Duckweed based waste water treatment with Pisciculture. Former is implemented at on-site or close to the origin of waste water. The system is based on sedimentation of waste followed by anaerobic treatment chambers containing growth media for bacteria. Final effluent quality is suitable for reuse in agriculture. There is almost nil operation cost of the system.

Cost of the system depends on the quantity of waste water to be treated. However, for 25000 liters of black water (human wastes) mixed with bathing and kitchen wastes water, the cost of the system would be around Rs. 4 lakhs. The plant can be designed for any capacity.

The technology of waste water treatment through duckweed is more important for villages. It has almost nil operation cost. It has economic return in term of fish production. Duckweed is a small free floating, fast growing aquatic plant that helps reduce organic pollutants in waste water. In treated water fish is grown that is fed with duckweed. Since duckweed contains 25-30 % protein, growth of the fish increases 3-4-times when fed with this weed.

The system require pond for the growth of duckweed. In rural areas where such ponds (one for duckweed another for fish culture) are available, the cost of the system is very low. It is about 4lakh for 500,000 liters of wastewater daily inflow. However, where such ponds are not available, the cost will go up considerably.

Hope the preliminary information will solve the purpose.


With regards,


Dr. P.K. Jha

Advisor Technical

Sulabh International Academy of Environmental Sanitation

Mahavir Enclave

Palam Dabri Road

New Delhi 110045

9. Dear Mrinalini,   Must say a

Dear Mrinalini,


Must say a good initiative, only that when they have not been able to solve this problem in the urban area, how would the impoverished institutions of our good old Panchyats will address myriads of issues which undermine sustainability of such facilities.


Yes it can be done - by adopting robust, affordable and appropriate tech solutions. Remember that it is capital intensive and low cost solutions have low life and high nuisance potential. Even if one goes for seemingly down to earth options, they need to be properly designed considering loading rates, etc. and which leads to increase in capex. Those who promise recovery of biogas/manure, etc. are actually misleading (its possible in a lab, but not in the field on a sustained basis).


Although not exhaustive, you could consider the following options:


On-site sanitation

Under the rural context, most appropriate option would be not to allow sewage to be generated. That would be possible by promoting twin-pit latrines and still better - an ecosan toilet, but the latter offers more behavioural challenges. Then for disposing sullage (the grey water), one would then have to provide a soak pit in each house.


Second option is a septic tank followed by a well designed soak-pit or a micro-wetland.


Off-site sanitation

  • Waste stabilisation pond

  • Duck weed pond

  • Primary sedimentation followed by a wetland/ irrigation for non-edible crops/ wastelands for afforestation

  • Over the land flow for pasture development


Trust this satisfies your query.


If you need any professional help, I will be happy to respond further.


Best regards,




Asit Nema

Consultant and formerly with Indian Enggening Services

New Delhi

10. Wastewater treatment in the lower Himalayas

I have read with interest all the comments and observations. As a non technical person with very little understanding of the system, I would like to know of some organisation who has worked with individual homes ( rather than communities) in the field of wastewater treatment in the mountains and hills of uttarakhand, specially in areas close to water bodies. Please email me at

Many thanks

11. Kitchen and bathroom water can be treated with tree filters

Dear Adit Dave,

Treating waste water is very easy for individual houses rather than community wise. First of all seperate waste water from Kitchen & bathroom with toilets.

Kitchen & bathroom water can be treated in many easy ways like planted tree filter and small pits seperated by perforated PVC pipes. I can send you the details on your mail ID. Sewage water can be treated successfully with natural bateria called actyzyme or bactizyme, which will convert human excreta into Methane, Nitrogen and water. Treated sewage water can be used to grow plants, there will be no smell, no pathogens. I can send you details by mail or you can reach me at  +91-9940652943

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