CAN’T FREE INDIA MAKE ITSELF OPEN DEFECATION FREE?

Saturday, September 28, 2013


 “More than 1.1 billion people in the world practice open defecation. The largest number of these people are in India, followed by Indonesia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Nigeria” - A Joint UNICEF and WHO Report 

Surprisingly, however, in India the poor state of sanitation and lack of toilet facilities have primarily been the matter of academic discussions and deliberations at different levels. Prima facie, it is really hard to believe that 60% people of India defecate in the open even after more than 60 years   of planning process; a state like Bihar which has been registering an average state GDP growth of more than 10% for the last seven years, is still known as a state where about 67 percent of rural population does not have access to basic sanitation facilities. 

The next few minutes would take you through   some revealing facts about the basic sanitation scenario still prevailing in this second most populous country - a country having a GDP size of two trillion dollar and whose GDP growth rate has been better than that of many well off countries at least during last one decade.
   
It is interesting to note that “Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan"  - Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) was launched way back in 1999-2000 which aimed at motivating rural households to build toilets and encouraging their use to finally achieve an ODF (Open Defecation Free) environment and also make the rural people realize the need for good sanitation practices. The main strategy for implementation of this nation-wide program has been ‘community led’ and ‘people centred’.

But, even after more than a decade, the sordid fact remains. India is termed as the world's capital of open defecation. 53% Indian population lack sanitation facilities, where as it is only 7% in case of Bangladesh and Brazil. More than 60% of households in Uttrakhand, Orissa, Bihar, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan are without toilets. Only 28,000 Gram Panchayats (GPs) are declared as "Nirmal Gram" under TSC   program out of 2.4 lac GPs in the country. 
   
By any scale of analysis and judgment, this can be said to be absolutely disgraceful and completely unacceptable. Even Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Rural Development, did term it as a matter of shame and sorrow, anguish and anger while asserting, ‘Gandhiji gave ‘Quit India’ call in Sevagram for freedom struggle and today I appeal to all of you to make villages open defecation free because it’s an issue of country’s pride.’

In all probability, as  a follow up action, the union minister initiated  few commendable measures including spearheading an emotive and eye catching awareness campaign where in one can see the Bollywood blockbuster film 'Dirty Picture'  and ‘Kahaani’ fame actress, Vidya Balan in a nicely shot social advertisement stressing the need of having a toilet for each family in rural India.
     
No doubt, a few states have taken encouraging initiatives in this direction. Sikkim is one of them and it has earned the honor of becoming the first state in the country which is Open-Defecation Free. Kerala and Himachal Pradesh will soon be in that bracket. 
    
Notwithstanding few such sporadic measures being taken at the level of central government and by  few states, albeit belatedly,  no one can deny the fact that the impact of deplorable  state of sanitation over the decades has been  many and multidimensional on health  and hygiene of common Indians and also on the country's much talked about stories of 'economic prosperity'. 
     
It has been a painful reality that inadequate  supply of clean and drinkable water together with lack of toilet and urinal facilities in schools are major cause of poor attendance and health problems of the children. As far as adolescent girls are concerned, they tend to drop out of the school due to these reasons. Generally speaking, women and girls, particularly in villages find it very embarrassing and insulting for not having the facility of  a  toilet at home as they have no other option but to defecate in the open only after sunset, that too at the cost of  their health and personal safety.
     
It is a common knowledge that defecation in open is fraught with high risk of microbial contamination of water which is a major cause of diarrhea and other intestinal infections among the children. Health problems pertaining to  a large section of population due to the aforesaid reasons has a multidimensional impact on our economy in terms of productivity losses, increased expenses  in the name of  providing medical treatment by the government besides having damaging effect on the Shining/Rising India image internationally. If one calculates the net financial loss to the exchequer for not having the basic sanitation facilities, it would be an astounding figure. 
    
Everyone knows for sure, where there is will, there is a way, and so is the cardinal truth that where there is a malady, there must have a remedy. And the remedy of this malady is not far- fetched either. It can very well be in place by initiating and/or accelerating few time bound action plans. State Governments have to   incorporate it on their top agenda items for implementation and Central government to provide adequate financial support in this regard. All Gram Panchayats (GPs ) have to identify the needy households and ensure provision of toilet  within the stipulated  time period of maximum two years by availing the required support from the local government authorities. In order to lend active moral support to this top priority government sponsored program, mass awareness campaign is required to be undertaken  effectively on an ongoing basis by all GPs  and other elected bodies  among the affected masses particularly the poor and illiterates. Yes, media has a great role to play in this regard. It must focus its full attention on this vital issue   and report the progress and also the anomaly, if any, being adopted by local implementing machinery regularly.
     
It goes without saying that state governments have the prime role to play in these directions which all concerned need to demand as their Basic Human Right. Nevertheless, the civil society at large must also come forward in a big way to act as an enabler and  also as an informal  monitoring entity  of the whole issue of sanitation in the country on an on- going basis so as to effectively fight this shameful malady conclusively before long.

As always, I'm keen to know what do you think on this subject. Hence, request you to post comments to share your views and experiences. 

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