Swachch Bharat in limbo: Religious leaders come together to revive PM's pet scheme

India needs toilets that do not use water, are designed with open roofs and are standardised so that they are cheaper

K Yatish Rajawat August 10, 2015 16:12:13 IST
Swachch Bharat in limbo: Religious leaders come together to revive PM's pet scheme

The momentum behind Swachch Bharat is slowing down. The initial enthusiasm shown by the top most echelon in the government, including the Prime Minister, has abated. The only institutional move to make it a part of every city’s functioning is the incentive offered by the ministry of urban development (MoUD).

The ministry has recently asked all the states who have submitted proposal for the urban rejuvenation scheme to also report the progress of Swachch bharat in these cities. According to sources, the successful implementation of Swachch Bharat will determine not only funding under AMRUT but will be a selection criterion for smart city.

Meanwhile, the construction of toilets in rural and semi-urban area faces its biggest challenge in the form of water. The government has not standardized the design or the structure of the toilets. This has resulted in all kinds of toilets being constructed, including western toilets with cistern that need copious amounts of water.

Swachch Bharat in limbo Religious leaders come together to revive PMs pet scheme

PTI

Running water or piped water has now become proverbial bottleneck in the usage of toilets. The usage of toilets even after construction is poor because of several reasons.

At a recent UNICEF conference on sanitation in Lucknow, several religious leaders from Shia, Sunni, Jain and Hindu religion talked about the perception problem related to using toilets. India has the largest percentage of population doing open defecation, almost 60 percent. Even lesser developed countries like Bangladesh have just 7 percent.

The reason is that people still feel that it is better to defecate in the open rather than in a room inside their house. Smell and claustrophobia are some of the issues that were pointed out by religious leaders.

Most Hindu temples do not have toilets, or even a proper way to dispose the waste accumulated. Swami Chidanand Saraswati runs an Asharam in Rishikesh and is a founder of Global Interfaith Wash Alliance (GIWA), an alliance that brings religious leaders together to address a practical problem.

Religious leaders have rarely worried about the practical issues. They are concerned more with spiritual well-being and do not address social challenges. At the most they would participate in nebulous issue like global peace. But Chidanand Saraswati has brought together muslim, Jain and even Christian religious leaders to campaign for sanitation. It is heartening to hear Maulan Syed Sadique, flanked by a Buddhist and Jain leader on both sides, say that he will begin with cleaning his own colony.

Sanitation is an issue that cannot be solved overnight. Until such time people do not stop littering or spreading waste it cannot be solved. Individuals have to realise the impact of the waste that they are creating, throwing or spreading.

It is a cultural issue. Indians might keep their house clean, wash twice a day, but do not think twice when it comes to littering. In our neighbouring country Sri Lanka littering in public spaces or road is almost zero. And, unlike Singapore, there is no law or penalty to enforce this. It is a social practice. Sri Lanka and India are not too far apart in their cultural ethos on other things but on cleanliness the country is far ahead.

Similarly, even after toilets are constructed people in villages will still go out and defecate. Using the toilets for everything else but what it was constructed for. This issue can be solved if every religious leaders says that it is impure to defecate in the open. Though there is the issue of running water, too. There are bio toilets and even toilets that do not use water at all. Unfortunately the deep pit successful used in Africa has been rejected in India.

India needs toilets that do not use water, are designed with open roofs and are standardised so that they are cheaper. But more than that Indians need to change their habits and behaviour to litter of all kind.

K Yatish Rajawat is a senior journalist based in Delhi. He tweets @yatishrajwat

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