Open defecation still a curse for India!

Ankita Chakrabarty/ Zee Research Group/ Delhi

Half of the population in India still defecates in the open, according to UNICEF’s latest report ‘Progress on Sanitation & Drinking Water 2013 Update’ released on May 13, 2013. South Asian neighbors Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have all made remarkable progress in reducing open defecation rates. These countries have reduced the open defecation rates by 25 percent each since 1990.

However, according to UNICEF, only 19 percent of the population gained access to sanitation facilities since 1995 in India.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had pledged to eliminate the scourge of manual scavenging from every corner of our country. The Union Cabinet recently approved amendments to ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012 on May 1st, 2013. These amendments include provisions like mandatory inclusion of women in vigilance committees at district, state and national level and a survey to identify manual scavengers.

“Political unwillingness at the state level is one of the main reasons behind the practice of open defecation,” laments Jasmin Ahirwar, officer at Water Aid, an international NGO working in the areas of health and hygiene.

According to the ‘House listing and Housing Census, 2011` data released by the Registrar General of India in March, 2012, there are latrines in India from which night soil is manually removed. According to this data, such latrines existed in all states/UTs except in the states of Goa & Sikkim, and the UTs of Chandigarh and Lakshadweep. Existence of manually serviced latrines in the remaining states/UTs points to the fact that the practice of manual scavenging is yet to be eliminated completely.

“Technological failure has further worsened the situation. Most of the areas in our country lack water facilities and if there is no water available for sanitation, there is no point in having toilet facilities at home,” further adds Ahirwar at Water Aid.

The ‘Housing and House Listing Report’ by Census department also revealed that the percentage of household having no latrine facilities in rural areas stood at 69.3 percent while the figure for urban populace stood at 18.6 per cent respectively.

“Religious and societal mindsets have further aggravated the situation,” concurs Ahirwar at Water Aid.

However, it is not as if there has been no progress, asserts Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International. He argues, “India has come a long way from the early 60s, when there were very little or no toilets. Now at least half of the population has access to toilet facilities.”

Going forward, he opines, “However, in order to fill the remaining gap, the implementation of the central government policies should happen in a strategic manner which isn’t happening as of now.”

Government of India has designed Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) now titled the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) project. The objective of NBA is to achieve sustainable behavior change with provision of sanitary facilities in entire communities in a phased and saturation mode with “Nirmal Grams’ as outcomes. The NBA seeks to make country open defecation free by the year 2022.

Will a fiscal incentive help? Pathak at Sulabh International, says, “The government should give bank loans to the needy for the construction of toilets. Also, the local NGO units along with the other stakeholders should work to create awareness among the people.”