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Profile: From Diamond To Toilets

Namita Banka, founder of Banka BioLoo, left behind a glamorous world to solve sanitation problems in the country

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The gleam of diamonds was too blinding for this 43-year-old entrepreneur. “Though, jewellery designing impressed me, I said enough of this glamorous and luxurious world. I was looking at something more fulfilling,” reminiscences Namita Banka, founder of Banka BioLoo.

No one knew that she was going to help the Indian Railways get rid of night-soil laden tracks and the corrosion caused by the traditional toilets installed on the most dense rail network in the world.

The roots of building efficient green toilets date back to her jewellery designing days of working with labourers in Surat and the grimy lanes of Opera House in Mumbai. She would cut back on her water intake for want a washroom. But fast forward to today and, like Namita, other women aren’t taking the lack of toilets lying down. “Women are fighting for toilets and forcing their spouses and family to install one. Multiple campaigns kickstarted over the past two years such as, ‘No toilet, no bride’ have given strength to the drive,” Namita says proudly.

Namita helps, not just women and the Indian Railways, but also schools, corporates, exhibition organisers and even households, build toilets that process human waste in an eco-friendly manner and convert to biogas and water, which can be used in gardening. The magic lies in the Bio Digester Tank System patented by DRDO, which has been licensed by Banka BioLoo, a 100-employee strong company growing at 50 per cent year on year. The bio-digester is infested with anaerobic bacteria, which at an optimum temperature converts organic waste eradicating the need to set up sewerage network as required in traditional toilets.

Opportunity Unlocked
Namita began taking baby steps towards a sanitation mission as she placed the 35th candle on her birthday cake. The year 2008 ushered in a complete change in her career and thought process. “Moving out of Surat, where I was inhibited from pursuing a career, to Hyderabad, where my husband moved, gave me wings. Money was never on my mind. I was fascinated by the subject of social entrepreneurship and was attracted to green initiatives.”

The interest in waste management began during the NGO-management course that Namita pursued in Hyderabad. During the course she took up an assignment to sell recycled ink cartridges and later set up a venture in the arena. The green venture failed miserably, but the access to Indian Railways — a prospective client for recycled ink cartridges — unlocked many opportunities.

One of the officers was complaining about filthy railway coaches when Namita was quick to offer a solution — “Install dustbins inside the toilets.” It took a woman to understand why the galleries were littered with diapers and worse. As a result, today dustbins are an integral part of the new toilet designs of the Indian Railways, Namita divulges.

Rampant Problem
“Over the next five years, open defecation by 597 million Indians will reduce drastically as 22 per cent of it takes place either through rail toilets or on the tracks close to inhabitations,” says Namita, whose company installed 2,000 toilets in the Indian Railways and an equal number in schools.

But the humble entrepreneur that Namita is, she quickly points out, “Our efforts are just a drop in the ocean. Overall, more than 80 lakh toilets were built in India last year and one crore this year.”

Namita has set herself the mammoth task of building one lakh toilets and creating an army of 100 entrepreneurs over the next four years. With her venture she is also blurring the artificial lines of casteism. “I was invited to an event on Dalits. I said I would come, but not because I am a Dalit. I felt ashamed of the social stigma associated with sanitation and the neglect faced by a section of society. For me work is work, and a sanitation solution is a business opportunity which also fosters the better health of individuals.”

Namita feels that guilt is often the biggest killer for the best of women entrepreneurs. “We need to overcome the guilt as it makes us stressful and pushes us into wrong decisions,” she says “This leads us to think we aren’t capable of running a business.” She believes that a way to condition the mind is to communicate to oneself that though taking care of kids is a duty, handling a profession too is a responsibility.

A piece advice from Namita, is for women to stop behaving like a daughter, wife or a mother at the workplace. “We need to stop being as delicate as a snowflake. Even men have headaches. The saying goes when in Rome do as the Romans do. The position at work is that you are stepping into a man’s world, so behave like a man.”

Her firmness pays off, she believes, and is rewarded by coming home to children who are proud of her.