A Legacy His Children Will Treasure
A steep, stony slope in Barnesbeg Tea Estate in Darjeeling, West Bengal leads to the little hamlet of tea pluckers, Karkidura. Here, homes are perched on small terraces at an elevation of about 1200 meters, overlooking the valley dotted with tea bushes. The sun in November is a welcome sight after an uncharacteristically wet October. Outside every home, pots of begonia, nasturtium and other flowers add picturesque touches. “It looks very nice on the surface,” says 49-year-old Khagendra Thapa, a driver employed by the estate. “But it is very tough to develop good infrastructure here!”
Khagendra should know. As he gazes at the mountainside at the tiny piece of land on which he has a temporary house and a shiny new toilet, he describes the sort of sanitation issues he and his family of five have faced in the past. “Earlier, we had a very unsatisfactory sewage disposal system,” he says, pointing to two holes in the ground next to the toilet, now covered with bamboo scaffolding and mud. “All the waste from the toilet would go into one of these pits. I would keep them loosely covered with bamboo and plastic. When a pit would fill up, I’d simply dig another pit.”
This makeshift waste disposal system posed several problems. First, the pits gave out a foul smell all the time. As they could only be loosely covered, children and animals had to be kept away from them as they could accidentally fall in. Digging deep holes in the stony mountainside required a lot of energy and Khagendra could not afford to hire help for the job. “As you can see,” he says, pointing to his tiny patch of land, “we would have soon run out of space for more pits. I would often worry what my three sons who will inherit this land from me, would do…”
When the Twinings and WaterAid India project to provide access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation and hygiene selected Khagendra’s house to construct a bio digester sewage-disposal tank in March 2021, his sanitation woes evaporated. The new tank has been designed to compost all faecal matter in perpetuity and gives out no foul odours at all.
“I dug the pit myself as per the design given by WaterAid India,” he says. “This is a very good design and the concrete cemented walls ensure that all the sewage is contained within.” Khagendra estimates that he spent about Rs 8000 on the three-week construction project but says it has been worth it. His wife Sangeeta, pretty with her tinkling bangles and red bindi, agrees. “Not only has the smell completely gone, but the cover on the tank has also made it much safer,” she says. Both believe that they have created a great legacy for their three sons aged 13, 11 and 10. “The bio digester pit will ensure that not only I, but they will also be free from the tension of digging soak pits and worrying about sewage disposal,” he says.