Picture: 123RF/SERGEY RYZHOV
Picture: 123RF/SERGEY RYZHOV

Mumbai — India is on the greatest toilet-building spree in human history, and it is a windfall for companies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s $20bn Clean India mission aims to construct 111-million latrines in five years. Besides promising to improve the health, safety and dignity of hundreds of millions of Indians, the national hygiene drive has spurred an 81% jump in sales of concrete building materials and 48% increase in bathroom and sanitaryware sales, according to Euromonitor International. That is benefiting firms from Tata Group, the nation’s largest conglomerate, to cleaning-products maker Reckitt Benckiser Group.

Almost 80-million household toilets are estimated to have been built since Modi’s 2014 pledge to ensure universal sanitation coverage by October 2019, which will mark 150 years since the birth of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. The scale-up of latrines and a nationwide campaign to encourage their use is driving a market for toilet-related products and services that is predicted to double to $62bn by 2021.

"It’s the biggest, most successful behaviour-change campaign in the world," said Val Curtis, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Environmental Health Group, who has worked on the programme in India. "Every time I go there, I feel like I can’t sit down for weeks after because I’m excited about what they’re doing. It’s incredible."

Bollywood star

Bollywood celebrity Akshay Kumar, star of the sanitation-promoting movie Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (Toilet: A Love Story), was appointed brand ambassador this month for Harpic, the bowl-cleaner made by Reckitt Benckiser. The company, which also sells the disinfectant Dettol, dominates the toilet-care market in India, with sales climbing 11% to $105.7m in 2017, Euromonitor data show.

"We are one of the most trusted brands in India, and we’ve always managed to outperform the market with Dettol," Rakesh Kapoor, Reckitt Benckiser’s India-born CEO, said on a conference call in April. The company has been able to increase awareness of its cleaning products by working with open-defecation-free communities (communities where toilets are used rather than defecating outside) and households to promote sanitation and hygiene.

That is a common theme across suppliers of home-care products, according to Sowmya Adiraju, a research analyst at Euromonitor in Bengaluru. For example, Hindustan Unilever entered the low-cost toilet cleaner market with a new powdered product, and has been trying to make toilets accessible and affordable through its Domex Toilet Academy.

Hygiene awareness

Companies are investing heavily on spreading awareness about better hygiene products, aiding the penetration of home-care products in India, which is still low by global standards, Adiraju said in an e-mail.

The Clean India mission has had a "largely positive" impact on suppliers of sanitaryware and tiles, sales of which are predicted to expand by about 11% a year until the end of 2022, according to Adiraju. The sanitation campaign was anticipated initially to provide a bigger sales boost, but some companies have partnered governments more as a social initiative than a business opportunity, she said.

Before Modi began the Clean India programme, known locally as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission, the country accounted for more than half of the world’s 1.1-billion people who routinely relieve themselves in fields, beaches and other open spaces.

Economic impediment

So-called open defecation contaminates food and drinking water, and spreads diarrhoeal diseases that cause chronic malnutrition and childhood stunting — a burden the World Bank estimated costs India 6.4% of its GDP.

"Sanitation is a basic need that is denied to a majority of the Indian population," said Rajeev Kher, CEO of SaraPlast, a closely held manufacturer, supplier and cleaner of restrooms, including portable toilets for rent. Kher has also converted aged buses into mobile toilets to provide a "clean and safe toilet experience" for women in a collaboration with municipal authorities in the western city of Pune.

For individual households, Japan’s LIXIL Group has supplied tens of thousands of twin pit toilet systems that cost $10 or less apiece to facilitate the safe management of excreta in the absence of a sewage connection.

$300m orders

Increased government spending on toilets and sanitation augers well for Indian Hume Pipe, according to Pallav Agarwal, an analyst with Antique Stock Broking in Mumbai, who rates the pipe company a buy. It secured a dozen major work orders for water supply and sewerage projects across six states in the 2018 fiscal year, totaling 20.9-billion rupees ($300m), Agarwal said in a July 5 report.

Shares of Cera Sanitaryware and Somany Ceramics have more than doubled since August 2014, when Modi in his Independence Day speech emphasised hygiene and the need to build toilets in rural areas. Kajaria Ceramics and HSIL have each jumped at least 40% in the period.

Mumbai-based Tata Group’s steel division makes Nest-In, a modular toilet that comes with an option for a bio-digester. The company has been focusing on products for end-users, including modular housing and toilets, and in March opened public toilet blocks at rest stops along a national highway.

"Private sector enterprises have to pitch in to make the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan successful," said Prabhat Pani, head of partnerships and technology at Tata Trusts, which owns two-thirds of Tata Sons, the apex company of Tata Group.

Bloomberg