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Dear Big B and Vidya Balan, it’s compulsion, not choice, that makes people go without toilets

Noted Bollywood actors -- Amitabh Bachchan and Vidya Balan -- were roped in a few months ago by the rural development and sanitaion ministry to spread awareness on a cleanliness and sanitation in rural India.

In one ad, set in a post-office in a small village, Balan reiterates the need for toilets for women in villages and towns and the ad ends with a righteous Balan saying, "Jahan soch wahan shauchalay."

Bachchan, on the other hand, tells his fellow Indians that cleanliness must define 'Vikaas' (development) in the new India. "Jab desh mein swachchata ke rang bharenge, hum apna bhavishya roshan karenge," (Future will be bright and shiny when we have a clean India), says a rhythmic, rhyming Bachchan.

The intention behind these campaigns are noble but the message is based on a flawed assumption.

The advertisements convey the impression that people don’t have toilets at home as a matter of choice - not compulsion – and they should mend their ways if they are serious about a cleaner India. The intention of the ad is genuine but as is the case with everything about the celebrity-driven Swachh Bharat campaign, it remains oblivious to ground realities.

Image used for representational purpose only. AFP

Image used for representational purpose only. AFP

Take the case of authorised slum clusters in the national capital – we are not discussing the much bigger unauthorised ones since the government does not acknowledge their presence in a strictly legal sense. In this demographic space, there is no scope for a place where toilets can come up. While RK Puram’s Ekta Vihar slum in South West Delhi has only one toilet complex for around 4000 residents, Moti Bagh’s Shanti Vihar in South Delhi and Hari Nagar’s Prayog Vihar in West Delhi have one toilet for four and seven households respectively.

“The government urges people through advertisements on television to construct toilets in their houses. We have been allocated a plot measuring just 12.5 square yard of land which is not sufficient to construct even a spacious room. With our children growing up and the number of family members increasing, it is becoming difficult for us to accommodate them. How can we construct in this space crunch?” Bhoop Singh, the area pradhan, of Ekta Nagar told Firstpost.

With the formation a government led by the Aam Aadmi Party last year, people of these authorised slum clusters expected their woes would be addressed but they were left disappointed in the end. “We had thought that the new regime will at least provide us basic civic infrastructure but hopes shattered after Arvind Kejriwal resigned after 49 days in office of the chief minister,” Singh added.

Although the streets of Shanti Vihar near posh Moti Bagh were comparatively cleaner, but the residents here also complained about the lack of toilets. “We have one toilet for every four households. And that too are maintained by us. Civic body employees are busy sweeping the streets of Moti Bagh, which is inhabited high profile people like politicians, bureaucrats and retired Army men, but they do not have time to visit our locality,” says Indira, of Shanti Vihar, who works as domestic help in nearby bungalows.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachch Bharat Abhiyan is meant for Lutyens’ Zone only, not for less privileged areas, feel residents in these unauthorised colonies. Lack of toilets in these over-populated localities has a cascading effect on the other areas of life here.

People in Prayog Vihar slum have also similar story to narrate. “The locality has one bathroom and one toilet for seven households. In addition, there is no supply of drinking water here. Because of the chocked and open drains, children are falling ill,” said Yogesh Sharma pointing towards four children suffering from dengue.

The resettlement colony came into existence 15 years ago but the residents here have not so far been given ownership on the 12.5 square yard area allocated in 1989. “Forget toilets, we are unsure about the future of children. They can be thrown out any day as we have no ownership rights on the land on which we have been living for decades,” said Jagdish Sharma, a daily wage labourer.

Explaining the root of the problem, Pranav, urban planner, CURE (Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence) India, an NGO that works among low income communities to ensure access to basic services, told Firstpost, “People in urban slums and resettlement colonies are forced to live in inhuman condition because the government does not consider them as legal citizens of the city. They are treated as third class citizens and a vote bank only. Had they been treated at par with the well to do residents, they would have been provided the same facility other enjoy.”

He refuses to believe that the slum dwellers are not being provided individual toilets because of space constraints. “For constructing individual toilets for 300 households, an expenditure of at least Rs 40 lakh is required. However, the construction of the community toilet complex (CTC) costs just Rs 15 to 20 lakh. In addition, only constructing the individual toilets won’t work, it will have to be well connected with sewer lines and the government will have to supply water to each household which will need further expenditure,” he added.

The CTC is completely unmanageable because of the higher concentration of people in the area, he further said.


Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 15:05 PM

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