Sanitation in India, development, politics and the stinking truth

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English: Montek S. Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman,...
English: Montek S. Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, India, speaks at the closing plenary of the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit 2008 in New Delhi, 16-18 November 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The provisional census data on houselisting has a shocker on sanitation in Indiasanitation in India statistics reveal that less than 31% of Indians had access to proper toilets. Yep. You got that right. MOST INDIANS DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO A TOILET. Half of india still defecate in the open.

A proposal to make Human Right to toilet an integral part of the 12th 5 year plan document was discarded by the Planning Commission of India. Ghosh, a professor at JNU said that a cabinet minister “gave a bizarre argument that Indian women like to defecate in the open“. Of all the things that get blamed on women, from obesity in children to rapes, this is one I had never imagined I would encounter. That women do not want the luxury and privacy of a toilet and like to defecate in the open.

This, of course happens to be the Planning Commission of India which spent 35 lakh rupees for renovating 2 toilet blocks, 5.19 lakhs of which went into a smart card system to limit access to toilets to those who had cards issued. The electronic access system got disabled after protests by people on the floor. Gone 5 lakh. Poof. Planning Commission chairman Montek Ahluwalia spent Rs. 2 lakh per day of foreign travel at a time when our Prime Minister was making noises about austerity. One toilet for public use can be added for Rs.10,000/- but right to toilet seems to be limited to the stinking elite.

In other news, yesterday, the Delhi high court judge expressed displeasure at the negligible number of public toilets for women (269) in Delhi, as compared with men (3,712). Not to mention India being seriously behind on toilets with respect to its commitment to UN‘s millenium development goals and four South Asian Conferences on Sanitation, not to mention on a National, state, district and mohalla basis. Big promises, empty inside. Naam bade aur darshan chote, etc.

News from Madurai is that residents of Alwarpuram, Shenoy Nagar and Gandhi Nagar are defecating in the riverbed of Vaigai, because the toilets in their area are either locked or defunct due to stinking conditions. Complaints raised have not worked, concerns raised about both health and river have failed to worry anyone into action.

Raichur, in Karnataka ran into a strange problem when its 3 fancy e-toilets costing 5 lakh each and with a working life of 7-10 years were not being used by the public. You put a coin into a slot, the door unlocks. Exhaust fan starts, FM radio plays… you are supposed to do what you normally do in a toilet. When done, if you forget to flush, never mind, the toilet does it for you, and there is a timer that rings when your time is up at the end of two minutes or something. Such miraculous toilets probably freaked out the public at large. Or possibly our crowds are either not used to paying for peeing or take newspapers into loos to poop and 2 minutes won’t do.

Whatever it is, the experiment follows Kerala installing some 450 of these toilets (that’s a cool Rs. 22.5 crores, by the way) by the same manufacturer, who also got (the visibility to get) a grant by the Bill Gates Foundation. Considering that Raichur City Municipal Council and Kerala are both ruled by the Congress with its reputation for you know what, one starts wondering about all kinds of things about these 5 lakh rupee toilets that play FM music.

Though they do seem to be doing good work when in the mood. Intinta Paarishudhyam in Andhra Pradesh seems to have built 50,000 toilets in four months for the sane cost of Rs.10,000/- (of which they pay about a third) or so, using sanitation kits and local labour. They claim that this model can be easily replicated all over India and I found myself wondering why it took 65 years to figure out that people can build toilets when mobilized. So I am a bit skeptical. God knows how good it actually turns out to be. Reports that use words like “high voltage” for a sanitation programme in India leave me wary.

Dakshina Kannada district Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is constructing sanitary napkin incinerators in schools to encourage hygiene and prevent blocked toilets when girls gispose them in toilets. An astonishingly caring move.

Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, the rural sanitation programme has failed abysmally to meet its target in UP due to lack of funds. Only 7% f the target toilets were constructed. 11,44,430 toilets were to be constructed in 5,799 gram panchayats, but it could construct only 79,653 toilets. The rural development department was able to provide only Rs 74.6 crore under MGNREGS against the requirement of Rs 514.9 crore to panchayati raj department for executing of the scheme till March 2013. Further meetings led to another Rs.108 crore. The state couldn’t use Rs 576.28 crore available for construction of individual toilets in rural households last year because of revised guidelines. Apart from MGNREGS share, the state received Rs 256.84 crore (against Rs 366.22 crore) from the centre and Rs 32.9 crore from the state. It also had about Rs 200 crore lying unutilized from the previous year. The department has to spend Rs 10,000 to get a single toilet constructed under NBA. To construct a toilet, Rs 4,500 comes as a MGNREGS share, Rs 3,200 as centre’s share, Rs 1,400 as state’s share and Rs 900 has to be contributed by the beneficiary.

Chennai Corporation failed to get any bids to construct 2,000 toilets, so it is waiting to fail once more before it rolls up its sleeves and gets to work.

In other news, some 85% of rural households in Bihar not having access to toilets is contributing to rapes, it seems. Police and social activists speak of a worrisome trend or rapes happening when women go to defecate in the open, particularly in the early morning and late evening. Mr. Pandey estimates that 400 out of Bihar’s 87 rapes reported last year would be avoided if there was access to toilets. This is interesting and worth examining if there is any corelation. It reminds me of a horrendous gang rape of a child last month. She was caught by her rapists when she went to defecate in the open. The link has more such recent incidents.

A report by Ministry of Drinking water and sanitation for the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan on the sanitation situation in some districts of Maharashtra tells us that the number of households without access to toilets is 71% in Aurangabad division, 62% in Amravati division and 60% in Nashik division. Additionally, another 12% are not working.

CSR fitted 48 bio-toilets jointly developed by the Railway Research Design and Standard Organisation and Defence Research Development Establishment and is looking to fit 200 more on trains at a cost of Rs.80,000 each. This will prevent the night soil from dropping onto the tracks and create a hygienic, aesthetic and safety hazard (corrosive to rails) and reduce the excreta to water and gas.

Even the economic capital of Mumbai has a shocking 1,137 manual scavengers, even though they are (token) banned by the state.

I have no point to make. All the points are made. This is a sample. This is where we stand. thought it was worth a compilation to get a large view. The Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan has a long, long way to go.

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3 thoughts on “Sanitation in India, development, politics and the stinking truth”

  1. An update (including authentic and detailed “on ground factoids”) covering the years between 2013 and now would be a great idea ! Another two areas which could benefit from detailed research are :

    1. linkage between Gates Fdn 22.5 Crores for 500 toilets (how many were inaugurated, how many are still used and speed of disbursement) as opposed to a comparable evaluation of Central Govt schemes which intend maybe 25 or 50 k Crores when viewed against state and district wise inauguration and number in use 2, 3 and 5 years thereafter plus budgetary support for op and maint). The stranglehold of babus and contractors on allocation, use and siphoning of funds needs urgent review and eradication)

    2. why MGNREGA cannot have a slightly cleverer link between wages, number of toilets made and in operation/ use after 2, 3 and 5 years which gives a kind of higher wage / bonus for stuff that works. Perhaps a competitive village/ locality wise comparison and monitoring can also be added to remove fudged claims.

    The largest area where research is needed is in toilet design which reduces or eliminates odour/ stink and use of water which is truly the eventual challenge

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