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Cleaning up Our Act

Our correspondent seeks answers to when 564 million people of India will stop defecating in open and take Swachh Bharat mission forward

Publish Date: Sep 22 2016 1:00PM | Updated Date: Sep 22 2016 1:00PM

Cleaning up Our Act

Photo Credit: Hrishikesh Bhatt 


Millenniums ago, when one of the earliest civilizations such as Indus valley civilization, laid their foundation, a prime focus of planners was sanitation. Perhaps that is the reason why excavators find world's earliest known system of flush toilets at these excavation sites. Far behind in time, they were much ahead of us.

Apparently, India counts for a huge chunk of world’s population and so is the number of people defecating in open. According to UNICEF India, the Indian subcontinent accounts for 90 per cent of the people in South Asia and 59 per cent of the 1.1 billion people in the world who defecate in open.
Open defecation causes serious medical problems as one gram of feces can contain: 10,000,000 viruses, 1,000,000 bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs, says a World Health Organization (WHO) report. 
The paucity of public toilets creates hindrance in any country’s way of economic and social growth. And the problem does not end here. Both economic and social growths halt when open defecation poses medical menace to any country and it surely does.
It would have accelerated hopes of many people that their long wait would soon get over when Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged the adversities that resulted in the declaration of ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ that envisages the construction of around 12 crore ready to use toilets by 2019.
However, missions like ‘Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan’ that focused on total cleanliness were very well prevalent but none of them matched the grandeur of ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ for which an amount of Rs 9000 crore has been sanctioned in this year’s budget. 
The figures are huge and may seem unattainable to a common man but in view of Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, India has all what it needs to realize this goal; money, labour, intention, basically everything.
What should be the game plan?
Deeply influenced by Mahatama Gandhi’s ideology of eradicating open defecation and manual scavenging, Dr Pathak’s Sulabh Shauchalaya needs no introduction. Being the pioneer in the field, the activist dreams to serve as a bridge between Mahatama Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for which, he has come up with a blue print.  
“Well, India has 686 districts, 6849 blocks, 2.51 lakh panchayats and 6.46 lakh villages, so to create the infrastructure required, one youngster from each panchayat can work as a change agent for which he should be trained in motivation, education, implementation, maintenance and follow-up”, Dr Pathak proposed.
“This change-maker with the help of two masons and four labourers can construct 20 toilets in a month, 240 in a year and in three years 720 toilets”, further suggested the activist. “So if 2.51 lakh panchayats can opt for this, they can build 180 million toilets”, said Pathak. 
To achieve the target, India needs 120 million, i.e. 12 crore toilets and if the plan is implemented thoroughly and methodologically, the nation can have a bonus of 60 million or 6 crore toilets. 

How much money is required and how to raise it?
Since making India open-defecation-free is a herculean task, time, money and methods go hand in hand. No plan will ever be successful without the allotment and subsequent utilization of required funds. 
Today, to make one good quality toilet, an estimated amount of Rs 30000 is needed, as informed by the social servant.
To bear the amount, there is a call for the active involvement of government and banks. Highlighting the role that government is presently playing, Dr Pathak said, “the Government of India is giving Rs. 12,000 at present as subsidy and rest of the amount can be given by the banks as interest-free loan to be recovered in easy installments.”
As a piece of advice, he further said, “the Government should enhance the subsidy to Rs. 25,000 and the bank should give Rs. 5,000 as a loan to the beneficiary.” 
Supporting his statement, he further said, “If the amount is less than 100% subsidy, there is much lesser chance of misuse of the money.”
Though, there is a lot of administrative and financial burden on the shoulders of government and banks, this monetary burden can be shared by several non-residents. 
“Government of India may reach out to the Non-Resident Indians, who are about 20 million in the world, and persuade them to give money to build toilets, if this happens, we can have enough funds to build 120 million toilets within the stipulated three years”, said Dr Pathak. 

How to involve corporates and what is the present scenario? 
India has 16,057 companies with a net profit of more than 500 crore and approximately 1,000 companies whose profits are more than 10,000 crore. With such a number of companies operating in India, the country should have no scarcity of funds and man power. 
“If these companies are persuaded to take responsibility for one district to make open-defecation-free, they can provide the money for the construction of toilets in the district”, conveyed Dr Pathak. “The Bharti Foundation of the Airtel Company is doing this for the district of Ludhiana in Punjab”, told Dr Pathak. 
Adding further he said that there is no reason why other rich companies cannot do this for all the 686 districts of India.
Drawing everybody’s attention towards the efforts made by private companies to make Prime Minister’s mission successful, Sudip Sen, Vice Chairman (Environment Projects) of Stone India Limited, shared some of the steps that the company is taking.
“Corporates are mandated to invest 2 percent of their net profits on CSR”, Sen informed.
CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility refers to an engagement of corporations to bring about an overall positive impact on the communities, cultures, societies and environments in which they operate.
“In India, one of the major thrust areas of CSR is Swachh Bharat Mission for building toilets and conducting behavioural change programs”, Sen further informed. 
When asked about his company’s contribution, he said, “Though, we are outside ambit of CSR but we use CSR funds to build toilets.”
“We are the no 1 supplier of bio toilets in the country and have installed more than 4000 bio toilets across India” he further added.
Sudip Sen also advised CSR and corporates to be more pro active and passionate about improving India through Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
How to maintain the final product?
Plan is made, implemented, money is allocated, corporates and other people are involved, but what after that. If not maintained properly, these toilets would not serve the purpose they are meant for and would again leave people using fields for open defecation.
To maintain so many toilets on regular basis and keeping a timely check on them may sound impractical but Dr Pathak again suggested ways to tackle such a problem.  
First of all there should be only one nodal NGO at the national level to monitor the progress of work by various Government agencies, as suggested by the activist.
“The Government can help generate resource mobilization, monitoring and supervision, but the motivation, education, communication, training, designing, estimation, implementation, maintenance and follow-up should be done by NGOs at the apex level”, Dr Pathak further suggested. 
According to Dr Pathak, ‘change agent’ at the panchayat level, as discussed above, can effectively work as a link between the banks and the beneficiaries and get the toilets constructed. 
Further to maintain them, the change agents will also follow-up for two years to ensure that the toilets are functioning well and being used properly by the people. If a toilet has some problem, it will be the responsibility of the change maker to rectify it.
Seeing the present scenario, the achievement of the target is not only desirable but necessary. It becomes all the more important when we come to know that the country loses around 1, 88,000 children under five, every year to diarrhea. Open defecation doubles the jeopardy for women who not only wait for the sun to set to relieve them but also become prone to various urinary tract infections (UTI).   
The government in its bid to make the country open defecation free has built more than 2 crore toilets. Science and Technology minister Dr. Harshwardhan claimed that before 15th August 2016 two crore toilets were constructed and the work is going on full speed. He is of the view that awakening has to be brought among people to use these toilets. Government is ensuring this and a nationwide campaign is on. Observers feel that without awakening government can’t find desired results. People especially in rural areas must be inspired to use these toilets otherwise the entire purpose would be defeated.