Operations and Maintenance (O&M)

Most components of the sanitation value chain – from containment and emptying, all the way to treatment and disposal – require ongoing and appropriate O&M in order to ensure long-term functionality. O&M activities are at the interface of the technical, administrative, and institutional frameworks that enable sustained function of this value chain. Operation refers to all the activities that are required to ensure that your city’s choice of on-site sanitation solution delivers inclusive sanitation services as designed, while Maintenance refers to all the activites that ensure long-term operation of any equipment and infrastructure.

For successful management of sanitation services in rapidly growing cities in countries like India, O&M is a critical capital investment. Proper O&M procedures ensures safety and improves reliability of services, supporting continuity of operations which can support in revenue collection from customers. O&M is also essential to achieve service targets and compliance with environment and other regulatory requirements. A city’s investments in sanitation infrastructure (see Principle 3)Infrastructural Innovations can only achieve its intended returns via O&M. Sanitation services are only as sustainable as the management quality, capacity, and resources in the institutions responsible for them.

Regardless of the nature of the sanitation of solution selected, complexity of the technological setup, and even the size of a treatment plant, O&M across the value chain requires several crucial tasks to be carried out in a timely manner. For instance, in the case of establishing FSTPs, most frequent explanations for failure post construction are low operational capacity, and lack of financial means to accomplish O&M tasks. Full integration of O&M plans is crucial at the decision-making and design stages of a city’s on-site sanitation solution.

A 2013 report by the Central Pollution Control Board, India on the performance of 152 STPs across the country highlighted that only about 66% of their actual treatment capacity was being utilized. The report concluded that conventional treatment technologies need considerably high demand of energy, natural treatment technology STPs require fewer staff to operate the system, and advanced and conventional treatment technology based STPs require large number of skilled professionals.

(Figure-1: STPs Meeting and Violating General Discharge Standards. Source: Central Pollution Control Board)

For the case of non-sewered (on-site) sanitation systems, a situational analysis of public services, customer services, and infrastructure choices is important to assess O&M requirements. For instance, in the pre-treatment stage of the value chain, one would need knowledge of any regulations related to public health, and infrastructure development, availability of viable private sector service provider, monitoring arrangements for access and quality, and workforce requirements. Following such an assessment, the state/city sanitation decision-making bodies must be able to answer some key questions:

  • Does the capacity for O&M exist?
  • Who will do it?
  • How will O&M be paid for?
  • How will O&M capacity continue to be developed and incentivized?

For most cities in India that require on-site sanitation services, FSM plans will identify two major categories of operating costs in the value chain: Operating desludging trucks (and any associated customer service centers) [emptying and conveyance]; and operating the FSTP [Treatment and Disposal]. Operating costs for desludging trucks include five components: pump maintenance/repair, engine maintenance, truck operations, technology or GPS integration, and operations of a call / customer service centre. Operating costs for FSTP include costs relating to human resources, operational activities, scheduled maintenance activities and replacement of parts and machinery.

Improved O&M that suits local context and is cost-effective in the long-term requires adoption of technologies and innovative business models that can minimize liabilities for the payer/government.

Situational Analysis_01

(Figure-2: Selecting technology for improved O&M in non- sewered systems. Source: Asian Development Bank)

Based on the choice of infrastructure for FSTPs, and the mode of emptying (scheduled vs on-demand), the Operating and Maintenance budget, capacity, and staff requirements will change significantly. Scheduled FSM is more complex that on-demand emptying, and advanced mechanical fecal sludge treatment systems require large operating budgets, and more qualified staff as well.

  • Key components for development of an O&M Plan for Treatment Plants
    • Assessment of Plant Layout and Hydraulic Profile
      • Provides information on each step in the treatment train. Includes Written description, Operating requirements, Technical specifications. Useful for orienting new workers and as a reference guide for seasoned staff
      • Hydraulic profile helps with the visualization of the flow pattern within the plant from one component to the next. It is useful for contractors during the layout and construction phase to ensure proper depths of tank holes, and can be useful in troubleshooting operational problems
    • Asset Management: This is a combination of management, financial, economic, engineering, and other practices applied to physical assets with the objective of providing the required level of service in the most cost‐effective manner. It considers asset inventory, lifecycle costing, routine and emergency repairs, financing for replacement equipment and critical assets
    • Regular, Scheduled and Proactive Tasks – To assure long term functionality of the treatment system while avoiding and mitigating the consequences of system breakdown or failure. This includes Maintenance Plans, Documentation and record-keeping, routine maintenance
    • Monitoring of Effluents and Discharge – This provides a measure of how effectively the plant is running, and the success of other O&M measures. It is critical for regulatory compliance as well, and includes the activities for periodic sampling, testing, evaluating, reporting.
    • Operator Health & Safety – PPEs, safety practices, Immunization, etc
    • Staffing – Clear Job descriptions and well-established hierarchies
      • Job descriptions inform the employee about their specific role in the organization and what is expected of them.
      • Org Charts are useful to describe the lines of communication and inform employees where they fit in the overall organization
    • Security - Septage treatment plants may be considered an attractive nuisance. Security measures such as fencing help keep trespassers out, workers safe., and facilities operational during adverse conditions.

Based on the choice of infrastructure, and availability of service providers in a city, FSM plans must prepare cost projections for O&M for a set period of time, develop strategies to source revenue for these O&M activities, and prepare well-designed business models and contractual arrangements with partners and service providers.

For instance, O&M costs for scheduled emptying services would include fuel costs, repair and maintenance costs for suction emptier trucks, establishment expenses (accounting for human resources), as well overheads, insurance, and other miscellaneous costs. Similar costs for treatment facilities would include the energy costs in place of the fuel costs. The total O&M costs as such will provide an estimate for the extent of revenue recovery that may be necessary based on the financing source for the ULB.

Identifying possible revenue sources is important for reducing cost for government agencies and to help make FSM services sustainable. Taxes, Tariff, Trade and Transfers can act as potential revenue sources for the towns. An Odisha study identified revenue sources as user fees for services, revenue from sale of treated dry sludge, revenue from registration of private operators, and even from collection of tipping fees at FSTPs. Business models must be able to clearly identify who is responsible for desludging trucks (ULB/private operators), who operates the FSTP (philanthropy/private operator/ULB), where the revenue for the operator comes from (user fees, services, ULB/Govt, etc).

From demand side, sanitation problem received a lot of attention from the government, development community, and private sector. However, from supply-side, particularly those who perform sanitation labor, remain overlooked and have not made significant progress beyond token measures. The official records only include a small number of types of sanitary labor, and even within these categories, only employees of the government are counted. Cleaning drains or even cleaning toilets by domestic workers do not qualify as sanitation work, especially who are employed via subcontractors. Their access to government, nonprofit, and private sector programs and assistance is prohibited. Hence, the government of India and some states have formulated schemes to benefit the sanitation workers.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) collaborated to create NAMASTE, a central sector scheme. By establishing an enabling ecosystem that acknowledges sanitation workers as one of the key contributors in the O&M of sanitation infrastructure, NAMASTE aims to,

  • Ensure the safety and dignity of sanitation workers
  • Provide sanitation workers with a sustainable source of income and improve their occupational safety
  • Give access to safety equipment and machinery
  • Offer support for alternate sources of income
  • Reduce the vulnerabilities of sanitation workers
  • Gives them access to opportunities for self-employment and skilled wage work
  • Eliminate generational gaps in the sanitation industry

Some of the key initiatives ensuring safety and rights of sanitation work includes:

NAMASTE influences behavior changes towards sanitation workers and increase demand for secure sanitation services. The Sewer/Septic Tank Workers (SSWs) are identified, with an emphasis on the informal labor performing hazardous cleaning tasks. The City NAMASTE Managers conducts the survey digitally in a pre-approved format, and the relevant ULB would validate its results. With help of the database, MoSJE and MoHUA connects with SSWs and their families to offer them the support they need for collectivization, skill development, and connecting with social and financial benefits. MoSJE and MoHUA supports SSWs and their families financially by,

  • Extending Insurance Scheme Benefits- the identified SSWs and their families are covered under the Ayushman Bharat- Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY). NAMASTE pays the AB-PMJAY premium for any identified SSWs families who were not previously insured.
  • Providing Livelihood Assistance- in order to fully mechanize cleaning activities, NSKFDC financially supports and give subsidies (capital + interest) to sanitation employees, SHGs of SSWs, and private sanitation service organizations (PSSOs) for the purchase of sanitation-related equipment and vehicles. 
  • Saturation with Social Security Schemes’ benefits- All social security programs being implemented by multiple departments will provide benefits to the recognized sanitation workers and their families.

There are management units at national, state, city levels, and convergence programs of MoSJE & MoHUA along with Information, Education & Communication (ICE) campaigns (to raise awareness of NAMASTE's other programs and the target sanitation workers' enumeration)

Similar to NAMASTE that is at nation level, Garima is a scheme for safety and dignity of core sanitation workers undertaken in urban areas of Odisha. The scheme is implemented by the Housing & Urban Development Department through the 114 ULBs in the state.

The key components to ensure improvement in sanitation services are mentioned in the below table.

Key component


Technical Modalities

Ensuring safety in service delivery system

Setting up of “Emergency Response Sanitation Unit (ERSU)

Services in confined spaces

Provision of PPE & safety devices

Provision for appropriate cleaning devices

Service Benefits

Assured minimum wages

Risk & hardship allowance

Health insurance

Life insurance

Disability support

Reduced working hours

Health & Safety (Periodic health check-up and Treatment)

Illness allowance (regular service establishments, contractual engagement, and outsourced workers)


Issue of caste certificate

Retirement benefit

Post service benefit

Other benefits (Gratuity, Maternity, and Bonus as per the eligibility)

(Table-1: The components of Garima scheme focused to ensure improvement in sanitation services. Source: Government of Odisha, Housing & Urban Development Department)

To best suit the local context, the city government must make informed decisions on the technology being used and the O&M needs for these choices. At a basic level, the extent of management and staffing capacity, scope of regulations, having reliable water supply, an estimate of lifecycle costs, revenue generation, land and utility availability, and an estimate of number of users are crucial to opt for specific solutions. The choice made should clearly address a problem in the sanitation value chain, and also provide a service-level improvement for end-users that they may be willing to pay for.

For complex technologies, institutional and financial considerations also come into play. ULBs must be able to accommodate the higher capacity of management system and staffing required, ensure revenues and fund transfers are adequate to accommodate increasing operating budgets, provide robust IT to manage and monitor systems, and have committed political support and willingness to adjust standards and charge realistic tariffs to operate more complex technology. ULBs must also identify a mandated institution or utility that would be accountable for maintaining service levels and enforce standards. In the absence of these considerations, the simplest, most basic technology allowed by the available land will be preferable. In most cases, there will be a need to manage simple technologies better, build capacity via experience, and increase revenue through delivery of improved services.

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