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Toilet girl goes global

Chennai, Oct. 16: A schoolgirl who has solved a centuries-old problem vexing Indian train travellers will rub shoulders with global experts at the World Toilet Summit in Delhi.

Fourteen-year-old K. Masha Nazeem of Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, had two years ago designed a train toilet that would keep tracks at stations free from filth and stench. The invention brought her a cash award at the Indian Science Congress in Hyderabad last year, as well as a note of encouragement from then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

The Class X student will be the only schoolgirl at the October 31-November 3 summit, where UN and government agencies will focus on public sanitation programmes.

Masha’s achievement, at age 12 when she was in Class VIII, is remarkable in a country where 70 crore people lack access to proper sanitation and where water contamination by human waste is seen as the biggest health problem.

The invitation to the summit came from A.K. Singh, an executive with Sulabh International, which is organising the summit together with the Singapore-based World Toilet Organisation. Sulabh is a social organisation devoted to building cheap and hygienic public toilets.

Masha’s invention allows a locomotive driver to switch off waste release from all the toilets when the train enters a station. The waste collects in a tank, to be discharged by another press of a switch once the train leaves the platform.

The device, said to be simple and elegant, had amazed railway engineers and railway minister Lalu Prasad. Junior railway minister R. Velu had promised to consider incorporating it in coaches built by the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai.

“That is yet to happen,” said Masha’s father N. Kaja Nazeemuddin, a government employee.

Kalam had suggested that Masha apply for a patent. “We have taken his advice and applied to the Madras Patent Office. We have also filed the complete specifications of the invention,” Nazeemuddin said.

Masha’s device made news when it won the first prize at the Southern India Science Fair 2005 in Secunderabad.

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