Transporting a Caravan of Restrooms 140 Miles to Serve a Million Religious Pilgrims

A huge team from India’s 3S Corp. takes on the challenge of sanitation for one of India’s huge religious processions.

Transporting a Caravan of Restrooms 140 Miles to Serve a Million Religious Pilgrims

Pilgrims have designated overnight stops. Each day they walk about 10 miles along a 140-mile route that starts in two different towns and converges on the temple town of Pandharpur.

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3S Corp. founder and CEO Rajeev Kher depends on a core team of four people to do the initial planning. They do the reconnaissance work, traveling through the state, visiting all the villages where pilgrims will stop, looking at locations for units, and contacting local officials. Kher also speaks with the official who coordinates the entire event. In 2017 he learned another vendor couldn’t meet its responsibility, so 3S Corp. brought in a couple hundred portable restrooms from one of its locations to make up the difference.

From that initial group of four, the core team expands to include about 50 people who coordinate service while the pilgrimage is happening, Kher says. “We have to hire a couple hundred more people to help with this event. I have three or four guys we’ve trained and who have done the PSAI (Portable Sanitation Association International) tests. We also have an agency that helps train the temporary staff in the skills they will need,” Kher says.


3S Corp. was founded in 1999 by Kher to bring sanitation to people in India who did not have access to toilets. In 2008 it was merged with Saraplast, which had been started as a separate manufacturing company. Kher has advocated for portable restroom as a way for people in poverty to help themselves. Renting a restroom to someone in one of India’s slums allows the renter to make some money by charging for the service and related hygiene products. Saraplast operates about 4,000 units and has about 300 employees in India’s largest cities: their base of Pune, plus Mumbai (formerly called Bombay), Bengaluru (formerly called Bangalore), Hyderabad, Chennai, and the capital city of New Delhi.


3S Corp. has been providing sanitation for about five years but only in the last three has the national government placed an increased emphasis on hygiene, Kher says. That is due to the efforts of Prime Minister Narandra Modi who has set a goal of having no open defecation in India by Oct. 2, 2019, the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. As a result, the demand for restrooms along the pilgrimage route has also increased dramatically, Kher says. Previously, 3S Corp. provided only a few hundred units instead of the thousands requested now.


June and July are pilgrimage season in India. Hundreds occur all over the country. Pune is located in the western state of Maharashtra, about 60 miles from the Arabian Sea and the city of Mumbai. Here the primary pilgrimage honors two saints, Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram. About 1 million Hindus attend.

Pilgrims start in the towns of Alandi and Dehu and over the course of two weeks, walk about 140 miles to the temple town of Pandharpur. With them on the journey are wagons bearing representations of the saints’ footprints. Each day pilgrims walk about 10 miles. The entire pilgrimage has 16 stops where 3S Corp. provided portable restrooms. In 2017 3S Corp. was the lead provider of sanitation on the routes for the pilgrims, as it has been for several years.


About 3,000 units were used for 2017. All of these are built on a Satellite Industries shell that is fitted with an India-produced molded insert to allow squatting. This is a preferred position for using the toilet in much of Asia. In addition to portable restrooms, 3S Corp. also provides urinals and water for the pilgrims. “In India, it’s a big headache to provide enough water for pilgrims to wash and perform their ablutions. People don’t use toilet paper here, so they need a huge amount of water for drinking and to clean themselves,” Kher says. In addition to restrooms, each stop also receives several water tanks with capacities of up to more than 500 gallons. Chemicals are from Satellite Industries and Walex Products. 


“The pilgrims leave about 3 or 4 a.m. Our guys clean the units, put them on trucks, and haul them to the next designated stop,” Kher says. “There was a huge transportation cost in moving the toilets,” Kher says. Technicians are divided into teams. One is tasked with nothing but cleaning, the other with transporting units.

The size of this job makes it a challenge, and so does the season. The pilgrimage comes in the middle of the monsoon season when drenching rains bring India much of the annual moisture that farmers need for crops. “For us, it means trucks get stuck in the mud,” Kher says.

To keep units moving, Kher’s team has local tractors or excavators on call in each village to pull stuck trucks out of the mud. In 2017 there were major issues in only a few places. That’s because by doing the job year after year, 3S Corp. technicians have learned where to put units — on flat surfaces and in places that trucks can easily move to and from.

Working during the monsoon season also means caring for the health of technicians because the rainy season is associated with spikes in certain illnesses such as typhoid and cholera. To keep workers comfortable and safe, their hours of work are carefully regulated, they receive vitamin supplements to promote health, and 3S Corp. arranges lodging and food.


3S Corp. uses 50 to 70 of its own trucks to move units and hires additional vacuum trucks from local villages to haul waste to the nearest disposal point. This may be a municipal wastewater plant. In some cases, there was no municipal plant available, so 3S Corp. created large sludge pits, covered waste with soil, and added enzymes to speed the process of converting it to fertilizer.

All the 3S Corp. trucks are built on chassis from either Mercedes-Benz or Tata, the Indian automaker.


“We use a lot of tech to manage this job and ensure that units are where they’re supposed to be and are clean,” Kher says. Key to this is a smartphone app used by technicians. Each village where units are placed has an appointed representative of the pilgrimage organizer. When units are in place, the 3S Corp. field supervisor takes a photo with his phone to show the units are in place, cleaned, and ready for use, and the representative signs off on the phone. This eliminates disputes about whether units were placed or what condition they were in, and the technology greatly reduces paperwork, Kher says. 


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