PM Narendra Modi is perhaps India’s first prime minister to have clearly spelt out the need for toilets in an Independence Day speech. He was aware of it, though. "People may criticise me for talking about toilets from the Red Fort. For the poor to get dignity, it has to start from here."
In Budget 2015, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley took forth the PM’s mission when he said that the government has set a target of six crore toilets in the next five years. The government had constructed 50 lakh toilets in 2014-2015.
“It is for the first time that the country’s prime minister has spoken about toilet facilities and cleanliness through his Swachch Bharat campaign,” said Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh sanitation and social reform movement.
Pathak is credited with designing a toilet with a simple flush system that did away with the need for manual cleaning way back in 1968. In 1970, he founded an NGO-- Sulabh International Social Service Organisation that develops toilet facilities, which do not require manual cleaning. What was win-win about the system was its technology which is low-cost, can be set up with available local facilities and proved very successful for the Government of India’s programme of ‘eradication of scavenging’.
Seven years after Independence, in 1954, the government first looked to addressing the issue of toilets in the country. The way they did it was through a community development system by giving some funds to build toilets in villages. “But the funds given were too small and so the plan failed,” Pathak recalls.
After that, not much attention was paid to toilet building until Indira Gandhi was the PM. In 1986, the government then did its bit for toilets through the Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) with the objective of improving the quality of life of rural people and to provide privacy and dignity to women. The programme was followed through by Rajiv Gandhi too, when he was the PM.
The programme could not meet its objective due to a drawback, says Dr Pathak. “An amount of Rs 500 was allotted for construction of a toilet but no subsidy was provided. The amount of Rs 500 was too much to spend for those at whom it was directed – people below the poverty line. When people do not have access to food and basic needs, they are not going to bother about constructing toilets. Another mistake was to offer just one pit for a latrine. When one pit gets filled up, what is the family supposed to do,” he asks.
During the UPA rule, Union Development Ministers Dr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and later, Jairam Ganesh, created an impact with their work. The sanitation programme got a spotlight only with PM Modi talking about it. However, Pathak says that for the plan to work, the state government must train girls and boys as motivators and change agents to build toilets.
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Updated Date: Mar 02, 2015 09:10:07 IST