The Swachh project at its outset suffers from certain flaws
An undated photo of Union Minister Radha Mohan Singh urinating on the side of a road after stopping his convoy has gone viral on social media and became fodder for news channels to target the Union Government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which envisages an India free from open defecation and urination. Swachh Bharat has been an important mission of the Prime Minister since he assumed office and the government aims to have an open defecation free India by 2019, to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
We must ask ourselves if we can honestly blame Union Minister Radha Mohan Singh for answering nature’s call on the side of the road.
The mission has, to its credit, built more than 4 crore household toilets in rural areas and 30 lakh individual toilets in urban areas. The mission is divided into Gramin (Rural) and Urban. The Gramin mission boasts of an impressive tally of 148 districts free from open defecation while the Urban Mission claims 796 cities are free from open defecation. While these numbers are impressive, there are certain lacunas in the project and its implementation.
The mission has, to its credit, built more than 4 crore household toilets in rural areas and 30 lakh individual toilets in urban areas.
We must also consider these numbers with some scepticism if based only on the basis of toilet construction, as they may not fully reflect the ground reality. It is, for instance, not certain that even households that have had toilets built are necessarily using them. The Swachh project at its outset suffers from certain flaws. Simply constructing toilets can never be enough, unless people are taught the benefits of using them and trained on how to use them properly. Public toilets throughout the country face problems as neither the janitorial staff is trained in the necessity of cleanliness and hygiene, nor are users sensitive to the need to flush a toilet after using it. It is worse in the western style toilets, where men don’t consider it important to leave a dry seat after using, or more often than not simply urinate without lifting the seat up. Can they be blamed? They have simply not been taught that’s how it’s done.
We must ask ourselves if we can honestly blame Union Minister Radha Mohan Singh for answering nature’s call on the side of the road. The answer is no! Any person on the move cannot indefinitely control his bladder in search of a toilet. The real question is why was there no toilet on that entire stretch of road?
In fact, that’s not the only stretch. Hundreds of such stretches exist across the country. On the Delhi-Rohtak route, for example, the entire Bahadurgarh bypass has not a single public convenience.
The Delhi-Agra Taj Expressway is a beacon of relief to travellers; it houses rest stops where one can stop to eat and answer nature’s call with ease in a clean and hygienic facility. Such a model needs to be emulated by the Ministry of Highways for all further constructions it undertakes.
Travelling on highways in general, people are supposed to rely on petrol pump toilets; we know how clean those are. Today, a few paise (Swachh cess) on every litre of petrol and diesel sold at petrol pumps goes into the kitty of the fuel pump owner as part of the Swachh Bharat efforts. He is supposed to use the money to provide better toilet facilities for citizens. But has that happened? How are the toilet facilities at petrol pumps today any better than they were before the Swachh Bharat cess was introduced? The answer here lies in the lack of a Swachh mindset and lack of knowledge and training. Once again, neither the janitorial staff nor end user is well trained on how to maintain and use a toilet hygienically.
Restaurants in posh urban localities to those at famous tourist sites, have one thing in common – they would rather have an additional table than a toilet for customers.
This is not just limited to rural areas but is a very common problem in urban areas as well. Even schools and colleges in urban centres have long faced these issues. Students are unable to use toilets because they aren’t kept clean. The administrative focus is on the faculty toilets, and students get scant consideration. It is well recognised that many girl children cannot attend schools for want of proper toilet facilities; what is not recognised is that the problem extends to male students as well, both at school and college level.
Elite institutions like Courts and Tribunal complexes suffer the same neglect. Posh urban market centres (not malls) are often difficult places because of the absence of usable toilets; some decent toilets launched with much fanfare some years ago have degenerated into smelly pits with no ventilation and no water, or leaky pipes and wet floors, making the experience highly avoidable. Some coffee shops in these markets, out of a sense of humanity, allow non-customers to use their facilities.
Posh urban market centres (not malls) are often difficult places because of the absence of usable toilets
Let us also look at the vast numbers of restaurants operating throughout the country without toilets for their customers. From restaurants in posh urban localities to those at famous tourist sites and hill stations, a vast number have one thing in common – they would rather have an additional table than a toilet for customers. So how do we go about Swachh Bharat when this is happening right underneath our noses? How come these restaurants have never been pulled up?
Swachh Bharat is easier said than done. The government machinery has been busy spreading awareness of Swachh Bharat but has not taken adequate steps to spread the knowledge of how cleanliness and hygiene are critical to building a Swachh Bharat. It is said that during the V.P. Singh government, a senior minister had to stop his convoy, and was unfortunately caught on camera urinating on a street in Lutyens Delhi. The picture was front paged by some dailies the next day. Yet, nearly three decades later, how many clean, hygienic and usable public toilets exist in the Lutyens zone?
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.