Bacteria from Antarctica or cow dung? DRDO’s bio-toilet claim questioned

Bacteria from Antarctica or cow dung? DRDO’s bio-toilet claim questioned

By ABHINANDAN MISHRA | New Delhi | 21 August, 2016

Some scientists working with the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) have questioned the veracity of the claim that the DRDO uses bacteria brought from Antarctica in its much-talked about bio-toilets that are being installed in railway coaches and public places. According to these scientists, who have filed a complaint with the Chief Vigilance Commission seeking an inquiry into the claims being made by DRDO, the defence outfit is using cow dung in its bio-toilets.

The bio-toilets that are being developed by DRDO’s Gwalior-based Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDE) and the Tezpur-based Defence Research Laboratory (DRL), use anaerobic microbial bacteria to decompose and convert biological human excreta into usable water and gases.

DRDO has claimed that the anaerobic bacteria used in these toilets have been imported from Antarctica and that they can effectively function in extreme conditions and temperature ranging from -6 degree Celsius to 50 degree Celsius. However, scientists with DRDO have claimed that the imported bacteria cannot survive in high temperatures.

“These bacteria need a certain amount of heat (from 0 degree C to 5 degree C) to work efficiently and this was the reason why many such bio-toilets installed at Siachen for the Army are now useless as these could not function for the lack of heat. The DRDO, which has been claiming that it was using imported bacteria, is now forced to use cow dung in its bio-toilets,” said senior DRDO scientist Dr Y. Ashok Babu, who has lodged a complaint with the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and sought a probe in the matter. Ashok claimed that the whole thing is a farce and certain people within the organisation want to make easy money by making the government believe that they were using a sophisticated technology in their bio-toilets.

Another senior scientist working with DRDE, Gwalior, told this newspaper: “They are using cow dung rather than bacteria brought from Antarctica. The Defence Minister can independently speak to any microbiologist in the country and he will get to know the entire story.”

Earlier this month, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, while replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha, had stated that cow dung was being used in bio-toilets to multiply the bacteria from Antarctica, which was being used primarily. His response was based on the information provided by the DRDE.

Ashok Babu, however, clarified that “DRDE is claiming that it is using a ‘consortium’ of bacteria brought from Antarctica in the bio-toilets but the truth is that it brought a single species of bacteria and is now passing off a bacteria found in cow dung as bacteria from Antarctica. The Defence Minister should ask the concerned scientists in DRDE to list out each bacterium in the ‘consortium’ of bacteria; this will bring out the truth. After their attempts to impress the Army at Siachen by building bio-toilets failed, they are now trying to sell them to Indian Railways.”

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