Rural Toilet Tycoons

Rajasthan is trying hard to become the first state to build a line of self-driven rural entrepreneurs, who are out to commodify commodes, finds out Rajasthan Post

Heritage, heir, royalty, legacy– the iconic symbols of  Rajasthan regalia may take a backseat for sometime. It is now in the age of branding bathrooms, oops toilets !

Along with Narendra Modi, his acche din promise seems to have come true for the rustic toilet tycoon in the desert state. 

Gone are the days of waxing eloquent about its unique heritage, its now time to celebrate sanitation. Rajasthan is trying hard to become the first state to build a line of self-driven rural entrepreneurs, who are out to commodify commodes. 

Thanks to the one masterstroke of the Vasundhara Raje government, Rajasthan has seen a built-up of around 4.5 lakh toilets across the rural belt in a matter of few months. 

Raje made functional toilet a mandatory condition for all contestants to become eligible to contest the panchayat polls held in January and also civic polls this year. The state’s panchayati raj department has now linked pay hike of government workforce in rural areas with a usable toilet at their homes.

This order effectively is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the state’s attempt to garner brownie points from the Central government through toilet track diplomacy.     

Official figures say at least 80% rural households in Rajasthan defecate in the open. And at least 7.6 million toilets are required in rural Rajasthan. And this is worth Rs 13,000 crore worth business.

So several agencies in collaboration with the Central, state governments and the World Bank, are working overtime to turn potential entrepreneurs into sanitation entrepreneurs and present toilets as a consumer product.

The focus has been to identify and encourage local entrepreneurs to test the sanitation business and market Total Toilet Solutions (TTS) that are aspirational, environmentally safe and affordable to rural households, says Rajneesh Sentu of MART, an organization involved in supporting newbies and also experienced ones in the business, said. 

Some of the sample toilets made in the Toilet Park
Some of the sample toilets made in the Toilet Park

The project that took off on Dec 2014 and is slated to end a year ahead has set a target of 1000 toilets for each entrepreneur. The project was implemented in Pali ( 315 km from the state capital) and Bundi (220 Km from Jaipur) districts because of their proactive administration.

Official figures say at least seven entrepreneurs have sold 140 toilets in both Bundi and Pali districts, doing an average business of around Rs 16 lakh in the past three months. 

The whole idea is not to have any intermediaries between entrepreneurs and the householders. The entrepreneurs will see rural households as direct consumers. For this workshops have been held frequently to make the sanitary entrepreneurs learn the art of branding the toilet as aspirational, standalone products rather than just a brick and mortar entity.

 The difficult task, agencies say, was of selecting potential entrepreneurs to turn sanitation entrepreneurs. More than 100 entrepreneurs of all types – big, small and medium were briefed and judged as per a scorecard.

Sentu said : “This was not easy as most entrepreneurs rejected the idea at first go. Finally 40 entrepreneurs could be convinced that building toilets is actually an entrepreneurial business venture. But they had to generate cash orders for at least 10 toilets and build them according to specifications. Ultimately eight entrepreneurs were picked to work as sanitary entrepreneurs.”

Besides an orientation on sanitation business, the support agencies developed a profitable and realistic business plan for them. They also helped the businessmen to find the financial linkages. The business plan of each entrepreneur was also submitted to the World Bank for vetting and a follow up.  

Pali, already an enlightened district with its Bhanwari village becoming one of the first Open Defecation Free (ODF) villages in India, has seen a built up of six more toilets by a single entrepreneur.

While its adjoining Bundi district has seen an amazing run of 134 toilets sold by six entrepreneurs. Two of the entrepreneurs have sold more than 50 toilets.

Bhim, of Vivek Agencies in Bundi, which has sold more than 50 toilets, said: “Initially it was difficult. Even affluent households in rural areas do not use toilets. They feel the topilets are only for women folk. And the poor burdened with loans cannot even think of toilets. Building toilets is the last thing they would spend their hard-earned money on. But once we could convince one, others followed. Mostly rural people prefer the innovative brick model, which costs about Rs 18000. Normally just digging a pit costs about Rs 15,000. We talk about affordability, functionality and its environment-friendly advantage while selling the model toilets.”    

Another sample in the Toilet Park
Another sample in the Toilet Park

He added: “Selling the initial 25 toilets gave us a fair idea about the challenges ahead in this business. The main challenge before us is changing the mindset. Even in rural areas, promotional events, branding to scale up our business is needed.”

Sentu said : “On an average,  the entrepreneurs make a profit ranging from Rs 1200-1500 per toilets. They market three and more models. In the premium models, the profit can vary from Rs 1500 to Rs 2000.”

What is unique about these toilets is that they are upgradable and are aspirational in design. For this, a unique Sanitation Park has been set up in Pali’s district Collectorate. 

The park has different affordable and environment-friendly prototypes of toilets likes the ones made of bamboo, grass, stone, brick, stones, different junction box and upgradable ones. One can choose as per the budget, needs and availability of material. This Park more popularly known as Toilet Park has stirred a kind of toilet revolution in these two districts. So anyone for a loo lore on the desert sand?  

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