Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: building upon past mistakes
An extremely appreciable focus on providing toilet in every school can
be a game changing intervention for improving public sanitation and
in directly for educational enrolment and retention, particularly of
girls. I also admire the impatience with which central government has
started action already through MHRD. However, it will do no harm if
the planners will read a report on water quality of Central Ground
Water Board, 2010 and notice how ill-considered policies implemented
in haste could sometimes do more damage than good. Shallow hand pumps
and tube wells were promoted through public policy and problem of
arsenic and a few other contaminants have led to significant health
damage in different parts of the country. Deep tube wells did not have
this problem. Poor people could not afford deep tubewell even after
the source of the problem was diagnosed. They suffer more even today.
Should we replicate a standard design of toilet all over the country?
Will that be worse than not making any toilet? Should we not consult
groundwater board, meteorological department, All India Soil Survey
Organization, and other such agencies to look at geo-climatic zoning
and identify boundary conditions for the kind of toilet design that
might be suitable for different regions?. The regions having high or
low groundwater and in different soil condition with varying extent of
water availability will not be served by a common design. Just the
physics of the toilet pot can determine how much water is required for
cleaning the excreta. There are designs which require just about 2-3
litres water. In some areas dry deep pit might be useful.
Of course, there is also a lot of experience available with various
institutions which may have learned from the mistakes of the past. We
can also launch a countrywide competition for location specific
designs of toilet at low cost.
The use of human urine and excreta as input into small biogas plants
can also be tried at a few locations. We must understand that given
shortage of water in different parts of the country, a design which
needs 10-12 litres for cleaning ( as unfortunately majority of the
designs need) will get clogged in no time. We don’t want to create
toilets which will not be serviceable round the year. Need to clean
them up will have to be internalized by the students as a cultural
value. DRDO has bio-toilets which is a very interesting and viable technology and must be incorporated in the Abhiyan wherever feasible. Already DRDO has licensed it to more than 40 entreprenurs on non-exclusive basis.
Whenever anyone used to come to Sabarmati ashram to join the freedom
struggle, Gnadhiji asked him to first pick up the bucket and broom and
clean the toilets. It took them a while to understand the connection
between this act and the freedom struggle. Swachh Bharat movement must
succeed. A weekly exercise to clean environment within and outside
the school will help. The Land Army movement by Dr K M Munshi began
with cleaning clogged drains in Chhatarpur village on the outskirts of
Delhi. We need a similar movement to mobilise the youth and village
community. In prosperous villages, generating funding for school
toilets from within the village will help. Community ownership of
assets ensures their maintenance. One lesson from the people’s
movement of making lacs of check dams and farm ponds in Saurashtra in
Gujarat is that initially, 70 per cent contribution was by people and
remaining by government. Later the ratio was reversed.
It is well known that in some areas dalit children are forced to clean
the toilets and that should be a seriously tracked and censured.
Diversified designs, community ownership, mobilising industrial
contribution under CSR and tracking location specific fit between
toilet design and local conditions (geo-chemical, drainage and
hydrological) need to be considered.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan must learn the right lessons from the mistakes
of the past and create a democratic, efficient and effective model of
solving a national problem in a time bound manner. Local innovations
will make program more participative and cost effective.