Today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared rural India open defecation free. On October 2, 2014, he had launched the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) to accomplish an ‘Open Defecation Free’ India by 2019. During his speech, he had mentioned various dos and don’ts of the mission. But what captivated me the most, was, a line in which he talked about the logo of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (the specs of Mahatama Gandhi) where he mentioned that it will symbolise Gandhi scrutinising each and every aspect of SBM. Now the question is “Is Gandhi content with the results?” and whether his words “Mai Kisi Ko Gande Paer Ke Saath Apne Mann Se Nahi Guzarne Dunga” (I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet) was kept in accordance during these years or not?
In 2014, PM Modi set the goal of achieving Open Defecation Free (ODF) India by the end of 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi as the most anticipated tribute to him. According to Swachh Bharat Mission, around 10, 07, 25,000 household toilets had been built and 35 States and UTs have been declared Open Defecation Free since October 2, 2014. There is also an estimated increase of 62 % in sanitation and ODF between 2014 (38.70%) and 2019 (100 %). Apart from the construction of toilets, the survey also elucidates on the augmenting behavioural change in the communities which will help in achieving the upcoming social and economic goals. After analysing the statistics, the Government’s claim to achieve ODF is astonishingly successful and appreciable. But is it verifiable? Let’s do a reality check.
I guess there is a reason why private sectors are said to be more efficient than public sectors because even if they claim to be successful, it’s pretty obvious that there can’t be a 100 % success rate. Even brands like Dettol and Lifebuoy claim to kill 99.9% of bacteria.
The Swachh Bharat Mission was divided into two segments: a) Rural SBM b) Urban SBM. When the mission was launched, only 38.7% of Rural India was under the sanitation coverage. Almost half of the country’s population were defecating in the open without any proper facilities.
Since then, 100 million household toilets have been built in 6, 30,000 villages still without any proper facilities. There have been many instances where people still prefer to defecate outside despite having a household toilet due to lack of water and overflowing latrines. Building toilets is just one step and if it’s not monitored properly then it’s just like a step backwards.
The safe disposal and management of human excreta is the other crucial pillar for sustaining the ODF status. According to the government, a majority of the toilets in Rural India are twin pit type which is basically constructed in the shape of honeycomb that does not require any additional attention. However, according to the report by NARSS (The National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey), only 30% are twin leach pit toilets and the remaining are closed and single pit ones. NARSS also ensures safe disposal via constructing these toilets mentioned above but the real challenge is the “means” of disposal. There exist no facility to examine how often and where excreta is getting disposed of. Furthermore, there is no provision to check whether the decomposed human waste is safe to use or not.
On October 2, 2019, the Government is planning to declare urban India to be ODF. The definition of ODF as per the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Urban) is, a city can be declared as Open Defecation Free if and only if not a single person can be found defecating openly. The situation in Urban Areas is akin to a rural area because of the low level of quality being maintained by the Municipal Corporations. According to North Delhi Municipal Corporation, the only non-ODF Corporation has failed to eradicate open defecation in their region.
Despite constructing toilets according to the norms of SBM, the quality of these toilets is found to be obnoxious making the situation more dreadful. Taking about the financial capital of the country, Mumbai, which was declared ODF in the year 2017 by the Quality Council of India (QCI) still grapples with the problem of open defecation. According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), 118 open defecation spots were lowered to 20 across the city. Such mishap is basically due to the poor toilet to Individual ratio going till 125 people per toilet which is much behind the standard ratio of 25 people daily.
These are just some of the instances which describe the exacerbated condition or we can say the harsh reality of ODF. One week back, two children from the Dalit community were killed as they were defecating near the village panchayat building in Madhya Pradesh. According to the father of one of the children, his family never had a toilet. Only one toilet was allotted to his father and the rest of them were given to Yadavs (Upper Caste Hindu).
As per the Government Records, Bhavkhedi Village, (Shivpuri district, Madhya Pradesh) where the incident occurred is an open defecation free village which means every household in the village has a toilet. Such a mishap is the quintessence of “action without a plan is always a failure.”
A society whose value is still influenced by the condemnable Caste System can’t be changed within the span of a mere five years. What’s the point of getting financial support of $1.5 billion from the World Bank if we can’t change the contemplation of 1.3 billion people?
It took Thailand nearly 40 years to implement successful ODF despite being such a small country. Every initiative can only be successful if we are ready to accept it with all our differences aside. The sanitary foundations need to be dug deep in order to have a better implementation. A radical change is required, such that no one is left behind, whether in rural or urban areas. Talking about the present scenario, the question still exists whether the toilets are properly maintained and human excreta is safely handled or not. If the situation remains the same, the immense investment in counting such toilets will go in vain. The worse is also possible if the government shifts its priorities after declaring it a successful initiative. Such instances should be avoided at any costs.
In the end, for Indian toilets to be a success and have a sustained future, proper coordination is required between people and the plan, as Mahatma Gandhi has rightly said: “So long as you do not take the broom and the bucket in your hands, you cannot make your towns and cities clean.”