New Delhi:“As a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in 2019, our Government initiated the world’s largest behavioural change movement with the Swachh Bharat Mission,” said the Finance Minister Piyush Goyal while presenting the interim budget for the next financial year. Mr. Goyal further lauded how India has achieved 98 per cent rural sanitation coverage and 5.45 lakh villages have been declared Open Defecation Free.
Various experts have lauded what Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has achieved in terms of toilet construction but at the same time have voiced some concerns.
Sushmita Sengupta, Programme manager at Centre for Science and Environment explained,
The budget announced today that the household sanitation coverage has reached an all-time high of 98 per cent. This includes almost all the states except the rural areas of Orissa and Goa, as the government claims that almost all the states are 100 per cent house hold or community toilet equipped. CSE on the other hand, asserts on a holistic approach for ODF which should also include cleanliness, water availability and ensuring 100 per cent feacal sludge management.
In a response to a Right To Information (RTI) query filed by Hem Chandra Kapil, it was revealed that more than 66,000 houses in Uttarakhand do not have toilets even though the state was declared ODF in June, 2017.
“This shows the government is in a hurry to give out the ODF tags without actually validating the records,” said Mr. Kapil.
In a hurry to make ‘n’ number of toilets in a specific time, the government has not given much attention to these additional factors and appropriate technology. As a result, the toilets are not used, and if they’re used, the feacal matter is not managed properly which in turn contaminates the ground water and other water bodies. Unless we don’t look into appropriate technology and safe management, we are not moving in the right direction and the recent Uttrakhand RTI report simply validates this fact, Ms. Sengupta added.
Avinash Kumar, Director-Programmes and Policy at WaterAid India also lauded the efforts made by the government but raised some questions on the sustainability of this status.
The government’s efforts towards ensuring access to toilets under the ongoing Swachh Bharat Mission are laudable. However, there is still a long way to go. To reap the enduring benefits not just in terms of toilet access, but also in terms of health, education, and economic effects, there is a dire need for continued investments with greater focus on four main things – those who have been left behind particularly poor and in vulnerable situations; awareness campaigns for behaviour change and sustained usage of toilets; retrofitting, operations & maintenance of the existing infrastructure; and finally to identify appropriate faecal sludge management models so that the waste from faulty designed toilets, single pits, septic tanks etc. can be taken care of in a safe and sustainable manner.
In his speech on the opening day of the Budget Session, President Ram Nath Kovind said that under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, more than 9 crore toilets have been constructed. He too, lauded the increased rural sanitation coverage of 98 per cent, at present. With the Abhiyan’s said deadline approaching this year on October 2, experts have pointed out that the government should prioritise technologically sustaining the toilets. As Ms. Sengupta highlighted that in the last nine months of the campaign, feacal sludge management is something that needs urgent attention for a successful holistic approach to an ODF India.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.