The country is going for cleanliness in a big way but the battle for Swacch Bharat has to be really fought and won in the mind. The grand objective of this tionwide campaign is to rid India of open defecation completely by 2019, the 150th year of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth. But the long-felt need for behavioral change has come over loud and clear in the latest status report on the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Conducted by the tiol Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), some of its data strike a sobering note. The government has been on a toilet building spree with the corporate sector chipping in as part of its social responsibility programme. In the first 11 months of 2015-16, over 1.09 crore toilets were built across the country. But using toilets is another matter altogether. More than half the rural population, a whopping 52.1 percent, did not choose to use toilets at all. And for all the stress given to equip schools with toilets, the results are similarly disquieting — 56.6 percent of school children in villages still went for open defecation, while the corresponding figure in urban areas was a sizeable 10.1 percent. The unwillingness to use toilets in large parts of the country has been one of the major reasons why earlier cleanliness missions like Total Sanitation Campaign and Nirmal Bharat fell far short of their objectives. With the NDA government all set to expand Prime Minister Modi’s pet project, the need to address the behavioral aspect has become more urgent. People need to be convinced that if they crave a better life, having a toilet is a must.
The second aspect that has to be tackled to take the Swachh Bharat Mission to the next higher level is to put in place better infrastructure for sanitation. Here it is important to realize that even if enough toilets are built to keep up with the country’s still rapidly growing population, that only means less than half the battle has been won. The question to be addressed is — after the toilets receive waste, then what? In large urban or rural habitations, toilets have to be connected and the sewage transported to be safely disposed off — not into rivers or large water bodies as is being done — but to huge sewage treatment plants. This will require large amounts of power and a host of green technology solutions, which are still not in place. Individual households can opt for standalone bio-toilets with specially cultured bacteria neutralizing the waste into harmless gases and water. But technologies for such ‘green’ toilets are yet to come fully to mainstream, though the Railways has ambitious plans to equip trains with such toilets to clean up rail lines and stations. All this puts into perspective the findings of the NSSO rapid survey. Around 44 percent of the villages surveyed did not have any draige arrangement; 63 percent of urban wards did not have a liquid waste disposal system for toilets, 44 percent wards had no sewer lines while nearly 36 percent wards did not have a dumping place for solid waste.
Given the country’s cultural problems in dealing with waste and the caste system hangover of assigning lower castes for cleaning work — it is hardly surprising that there is a chronic shortage of people to keep community and public toilets clean. The NSSO survey shows that 22.6 percent of such toilets in villages and 8.6 percent in urban wards are not cleaned regularly. Then there is the problem of garbage disposal on a colossal scale. Most villages continue to dump garbage outside homes or in agricultural fields. Only 43 percent of urban wards have a door-to-door waste collection system; only 18 percent of the total waste generated was processed. Overall, it has been estimated that 5.5 to 7 crore tonnes of waste is collected in the country every year. With growing affluence, more waste will be generated in the coming years. With about 370 people living per square km, the country also lacks sufficient space to deal with the huge volume of waste being generated. But the battle for a Clean India is not something we can afford to lose. So as the Swachh Bharat Mission is raised to a higher mode, innovative solutions must be found to deal with various aspects of sanitation – sorting and recycling garbage, incinerating or burying waste, composting, treating sewage and generating biogas. There have been successful efforts by some local administrations and NGOs in dealing with waste, which need to be studied and appreciated. The government is willing to pump in funds to take forward its cleanliness campaign. But it will be a success only if the 12 crore non-toilet households are convinced to change their situation. Most households can find the money to build toilets and deal effectively with waste if only they put their minds to it.