Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak is a Renaissance Man who combines in his multifaceted personality the traits of a social scientist, an engineer, an administrator, a human resource manager, a social entrepreneur and an institution-builder. With his trailblazing innovations in diverse fields, he has brought about a sea change in the lives of the poor and the weaker sections of society by improving community health, hygiene and environmental sanitation.
He has turned the pages of India’s long history of untouchability, social discrimination, and the mass practice of defecation in the open besides offering solutions for clean drinking water to the people in arsenic affected areas.
Sulabh International Social Service Organisation Dr. Pathak launched Sulabh International as a Philanthropic, Human Rights and Social Welfare Organisation in 1970. Sulabh is a philosophical, spiritual and value based Organisation rooted in emancipation of untouchables and widows and working for a clean environment.
Toilet Revolution: Dr. Pathak realized that academia could not solve social problems including those of human rights and human dignity, one among which was the problem of manual scavenging for which he built up Sulabh two-pit pour-flush, on-site compost toilet (recognized by the UNDP and WHO as one of the best global technologies for disposal of human waste).
In this toilet technology, there are two pits, one is used at a time and when it is full, the incoming excreta is diverted to the other pit. In about two years, the excreta gets digested and becomes dry and pathogen free manure.
The two-pit pour-flush Sulabh toilet technology has over the years been approved and recommended for use by the national and international agencies. Sulabh technology has been featured by the BBC Horizons as one of the five unique inventions of the world. UNDP, UNICEF, UN-HABITAT, UNCHS, Government of India, China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, South Africa, etc. all have adopted this technology. Crucially, the technology also saves the environment from methane gas pollution – for, it is absorbed in the porous walls of the pits.
The year 1974 was a landmark in the history of sanitation and Sulabh International. In this year, the organisation entered the field with its own design for construction of Sulabh Public Toilet Complexes and operating and maintaining them on ‘pay and use’ basis charging the users a nominal amount. The design of Sulabh Complexes has special features. There are separate enclosures for men and women. Besides, toilet complexes also have urinals and baths with continuous supply of water.
Over the years Sulabh International has constructed 1.6 million household toilets as well as more than 10,000 pay-and-use toilet complexes which are being used daily by 20 million people who used to go out for defecation in the open..
Energy Producing Toilets: Another innovation of Sulabh is a toilet system integrated with a biogas facility produces methane from human waste that is recovered to serve as green fuel for household needs. It has a potential to serve the energy needs of communities and more. The mineral-rich effluent water is yet another resource recovered that serves as a liquid fertilizer.
Toilet Museum: Dr. Pathak has established the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, which is the only museum of its kind in the world. The Museum of Toilets is visited daily by a large number of national and international visitors.
Sulabh Purified Drinking Water: Sulabh has made forays into decontaminating arsenic-affected natural sources of water in the Indian State of West Bengal. Sulabh technologies have significantly contributed towards the objective of the 6th Sustainable Development Goal, that is, to Ensure Availability and Sustainable Management of Water and Sanitation for All.
Sulabh’s Liberation and Rehabilitation of Untouchables programme: Dr. Pathak has adopted two towns of Rajasthan namely Alwar and Tonk for restoring the human rights and dignity of untouchables. He also worked tirelessly to rehabilitate untouchables and bring them into the mainstream. His concept of the Horizontal System of Caste is the innovation of a coolheaded thinker. His phenomenal rise to eminence is due to the positive change he has brought about in the lives of millions of people.
Sulabh’s Widows Project: Dr. Pathak’s humanist intervention in the lives of the widows of Vrindavan, Varanasi and Uttarakhand has enthused them with a new hope. After a request from the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, Sulabh took a number of measures to empower the widows and ensure that they lead a life of dignity in the final years of their lives. Now they celebrate Indian festivals like Diwali– the festival of lights, Holi– the festival of colours etc. where their participation was earlier a taboo.
For his seminal contributions, Dr. Pathak has won several national and international awards that include: Padma Bhushan from the Government of India (1991); the International Saint Francis Prize for Environment (1992); the Stockholm Water Prize by Stockholm International Water Institute (2009).
He has been selected by the Time magazine as one of the Heroes of the Environment for the designer’s low-cost toilet. He was ranked by The Economist (November 2015) amongst the World’s Top 50 diversity figures in public life Mr. Bill De Blasio, Mayor of the City of New York, declared April 14, 2016 as ‘DR. BINDESHWAR PATHAK DAY’. Dr. Pathak is also a recipient of the ‘Gandhi Peace Prize’ from the Hon’ble President of India.
Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak through his transformative contributions, coupled with the relentless efforts and visionary leadership epitomises the role of a social entrepreneur and reformer in contemporary India.