Plumbing Info

Toilets At Any Cost – Sanitation concerns of the govt and UN agencies overlook the need for covered drains and disposal
by Sreelatha Menon – New Delhi, April 1, 2012

Published in the Business Standard, October 18, 2012

The census found recently that about 70 per cent of the population in rural India defecates in the open. And, according to the report of the United Nations on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), India accounts for 60 per cent of the world population who defecate in the open.

According to UNICEF, many states in India would take as long as 90 years to achieve total sanitation — one of the MDGs that the world was supposed to meet by 2015.

Madhya Pradesh and Orissa would take 90 years, while Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Rajasthan would take about 62 years. Only 17 states have achieved toilet salvation with total coverage, according to this data released by UNICEF India. Neither UNICEF nor the government seems to have answers as to why Indians loathe toilets.

According to UNICEF India’s specialist on water and sanitation, Aidan Cronin, there are about 20 million new persons using toilets in India every year. Among those who don’t have toilets, Above Poverty Line families outnumber the Below Poverty Line (BPL) ones, says Cronin.

The government schemes and the fact that BPL are landless without the privilege of using open spaces as toilets may have pushed them to accepting toilets. But the problem with the government schemes was that the toilet-building scheme of the rural development ministry and the housing scheme under the Indira Awas Yojana (started in 1985), operated independently. So, there was no guarantee that a man who got a house also got a toilet.

Such a strange compartmentalisation has led to millions of houses being built without toilets since 1985. The two programmes come under two different departments and funds are sent to states separately by them. About five years ago, the ministry of rural development tried to bring some sort of convergence, but no states complied. Last year, the ministry put its foot down and has since been monitoring closely to ensure toilets and houses are sanctioned simultaneously, say officials.

According to the ministry data, while about three million houses were constructed in 2011-12 under IAY, just 300,000 got toilets. As for Bengal, while close to 200,000 houses were built, less than 70,000 toilets were built in the same period.

The data for 2006-07 shows that while about 1.4 million houses were constructed under IAY, only half of these got toilets — which seems like a better performance than now. That year, Madhya Pradesh was one state where almost every house got a toilet, 53,000 out of 54,000. In Uttar Pradesh, in the same year, just half of the 165,000 houses built got toilets.

What puzzles the government and the UN agencies is the fact that while people don’t wish to spend money on a toilet, they have money to buy mobile phones. While there are 54.4 per cent telephone (including mobile phones) users in rural India, about 48 per cent of rural India uses a mobile. This is giving sleepless nights to policy makers, with Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh out of his genuine concern ended up blaming women for not being enthusiastic about toilets.

The fact that many in rural areas find the toilet a strange concept that invites filth into their small, neat houses is beyond the understanding of policy makers.

What the sanitation promoters are overlooking is the fact that providing toilets without waste disposal and covered drainage facilities could be a recipe for even worse problems, including replication of the Yamuna syndrome or transforming open sources of water into cess pools — as is the case in all urban slums. Unfortunately, the MDGs don’t include clean surroundings and covered drains. It only wants toilets at any cost.

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