Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak Indian Sanitation Innovator and Social Reformer Receives the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize


Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak received the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize at a Royal Award Ceremony and Banquet during the World Water Week in Stockholm on August 20.

Dr. Pathak at World Water Week. Photo SIWI


Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak received the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize at a Royal Award Ceremony and Banquet during the World Water Week in Stockholm on August 20.  


“The results of Dr. Pathak’s endeavors constitute one of the most amazing examples of how one person can impact the well being of millions,” noted the Stockholm Water Prize nominating committee in its citation. “Dr. Pathak’s leadership in attaining these remarkable socio-environmental results has been universally recognised, and not least by those who have secured the freedom of human dignity as a consequence of his efforts.”

Dr. Pathak with a Sulabh effluent treatment and biogas conversion unit. Photo credit: Sulabh International Social Service Organisation


As the founder of the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, Dr. Pathak is known around the world for his wide ranging work in the sanitation field to improve public health, advance social progress, and improve human rights in India and other countries. His accomplishments span the fields of sanitation technology, social enterprise, and healthcare education for millions of people in his native country, serving as a model for NGO agencies and public health initiatives around the world.


Since he established the Sulabh Sanitation Movement in 1970, Dr. Pathak has worked to change social attitudes toward traditional unsanitary latrine practices in slums, rural villages, and dense urban districts, and developed cost effective toilet systems that have improved daily life and health for millions of people.


Through Sulabh, Dr. Pathak has waged a decades-long campaign to abolish the traditional practice of manual “scavenging” of human waste from the simple pit latrines that have predominated across much of India. His early concern for the plight of the “untouchable” scavenger caste led to the development of the Sulabh Shauchalaya toilets to eliminate the need for scavenging in poor communities.




Sanitation Innovator


Frequently citing the common toilet as one of civilization’s most significant advances, Dr. Pathak has led the development of cost-effective and culturally appropriate toilets and related treatment systems to replace the traditional unsanitary bucket latrines in poor communities throughout India. His most prominent innovations include:




Toilet, two pit. Photo: Sulabh International


  • The Sulabh Shauchalaya twin pit, pour-flush toilet system now in use in more than 1.2 million residences and buildings built by Sulabh. This technology has been declared a Global Best Practice by United Nations Centre for Human Settlements - Habitat (UNCHS), and is now recommended by the UNDP for use by more than 2.6 billion people around the world.
  • Sulabh public toilet and bath facilities based on that system at 7500 locations, together serving more than 10 million people daily. These pay-per-use public facilities provide an economically sustainable, ecological, and culturally acceptable solution to hygiene problems in crowded slum communities and public places.
    Use of biogas for cooking. Photo Sulabh International
  • Several technologies that convert waste from Sulabh Shauchalaya toilets into biogas for heating, cooking, and generating electricity.
  • Optimised water conservation in the Sulabh Shauchalaya systems, requiring only 1.5 litres of water per use to flush, in contrast to conventional toilets that require a minimum of 10 litres. This has significant additional benefits for health and quality of life in water-poor regions.
  • Environmentally balanced wastewater treatment based on a duckweed and fish raising (pisciculture) ecosystem that provides economic opportunities for rural poor communities.



Action Sociologist


A self-described “action-sociologist,” Dr. Pathak has worked on the leading edge of social enterprise for decades, combining business best practices and principled activism to advance the causes of better sanitation, societal change, and improved quality of life. In 1970, he founded the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, an NGO that has been a catalyst for improved sanitation and social change across India.



On the request of Kabul Municipality and Government of India, Sulabh International Social Service Organisation has constructed five 'Community Toilet Complexes' in Kabul, Afghanistan, under aid from the Government of India to Afghanistan. The five community toilet complexes were completed along with an intensive awareness campaign over nine working months at a cost of Rs 3.27 crore (a crore rupee is ten million rupees), by a dedicated Sulabh team under the guidance of Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak. Photo: Sulabh International

Now with more than 50,000 associate members who are rendering their voluntary services, the organisation has recently /started operations in Bhutan and Afghanistan.


In collaboration with UN-HABITAT, Sulabh has trained engineers, architects, planners and administrators from 14 countries in Africa. Sulabh is now planning to start work in Ethiopia, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Madagascar, Dominican Republic, Tajikistan and other countries.



Through Sulabh, Dr. Pathak has waged a decades-long campaign to abolish the traditional practice of manual “scavenging” of human waste from the simple pit latrines that have predominated across much of India. His early concern for the plight of the “untouchable” scavenger caste led to the development of the Sulabh Shauchalaya toilets to eliminate the need for scavenging in poor communities. Over the years he has led multiple initiatives to champion social dignity, economic justice, and liberation from the caste-oriented system for former “untouchable” scavengers and their families.



To meet the demand, at behest of the Shri Saibaba Sansthan, Shirdi, the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, Maharashtra Branch, got constructed an aesthetically exquisite and visually appealing, colourful toilet-cum-bath complex, spread over an area of over two acres. The toilet complex provides a variety of facilities to its users including 120 WC's, 108 bathing cubicles, 28 special toilets, six dressing rooms, rows of urinals, immaculately laid out to avoid congestion. The complex is capable of serving approximately 30,000 users everyday. The self-sustaining complex has three excreta based, biogas-generating Sulabh plants which provide electricity to the entire complex for illumination and water heating. The water discharged from the complex is recycled for irrigating the beautifully laid out green area. To provide a sylvan touch to the complex a variety of trees have also been planted all around the area. Telephone services are available at the counters and provision for 5000 lockers has also been made to facilitate the tourists for safekeeping of their belongings. Photo and text Sulabh International


Hygiene and Health Educator


With the establishment of the Sulabh International Institute of Health and Hygiene (SIIHH), Dr. Pathak has led efforts across the NGO and government sectors to develop effective and culturally oriented hygiene and health models for urban slums and rural villages. In collaboration with other organizations, SIIHH has created hygiene curricula for young schoolchildren and their teachers, provided sanitation and health training for volunteer instructors in slums, and opened centres providing basic healthcare for urban poor at Sulabh community toilet complexes.


Working with the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests, Dr. Pathak also established the Sulabh Environmental Information System Centre to gather and disseminate environmental information related to hygiene, sanitation, and sewage treatment for researchers, academics, policy makers, and students.



About Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak


Born to a Brahmin family in 1943 and raised in the Indian state of Bihar, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak attended Patna University where he earned an M.A. in Sociology, an M.A. in English, a Ph.D. in “Liberation of scavengers through low cost sanitation” and a Doctorate of Literature in “Eradication of scavenging and environmental sanitation in India: a sociological study.”


Dr. Pathak first came to understand the plight of scavengers in 1968 when he joined the Bhangi-Mukti (scavengers’ liberation) Cell of the Bihar Gandhi Centenary Celebrations Committee. During that time, he traveled throughout India, living with scavenger families as part of his Ph.D. research. Drawing on that experience, he resolved to take action, not only out of sympathy for the scavengers but also in the belief that scavenging is a dehumanizing practice that would ultimately have a destructive impact on modern Indian society.


With the establishment of the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation in 1970, he thus launched a unique movement that combines technical innovation with humanitarian principles.


A prolific writer and speaker, Dr. Pathak has authored several books, the most well-known of which is The Road to Freedom, and is a frequent participant in conferences on sanitation, health, and social progress around the world. He lives near the Sulabh campus in New Delhi.




About the Stockholm Water Prize


First presented in 1991, The Stockholm Water Prize is the world’s most prestigious prize for outstanding achievement in water-related activities.

Stockholm Water Prize sculpture. Photo SIWI

The annual prize, which includes a USD 150,000 award and a crystal sculpture specially designed and created by Orrefors, honours individuals, institutions or organisations whose work contributes broadly to the conservation and protection of water resources and to improved health of the planet’s inhabitants and ecosystems.


An international nominating committee appointed by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is responsible to review the nominations and propose a candidate. The Founders of the prize are Swedish and international companies in co-operation with the City of Stockholm. The prize program is administered by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).


The patron of the Stockholm Water Prize is H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.



The Stockholm International Water Institute  provided the text for this article.

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