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Should Swachh Bharat only be about making villages open defecation free?

Think Change India
24th Jun 2017
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Uttarakhand and Haryana have joined Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, and Kerala in becoming open defecation-free (ODF) states. Uttarakhand is the fourth and Haryana the fifth ODF state under the Swachh Bharat Mission.

According to IANS, in a statement released, Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said,

Today, Swachh Bharat Mission has truly become a people's movement. People of Uttarakhand and Haryana, the government officials and representatives of other institutions have contributed towards this milestone.

The statement further said,

Nationally, the sanitation coverage has increased from 42 percent to over 64 percent in just two-and-a-half years since the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission.
Image: The Statesman

Uttarakhand's 13 districts, 95 blocks, 7,256 gram panchayats and 1,5751 villages were formally declared ODF in Dehradun while Haryana’s 21 districts, 124 blocks, and 6,083 gram panchayats were formally declared ODF in Chandigarh.

Adding this to the already ODF three states means that we now have two lakh villages and 147 districts more as ODF across the country.

It is at this juncture that we should question if building toilets and stopping open defecation ensures that all problems related to sanitation are addressed. We also need to start questioning the means through which we are achieving this, as a man who objected to women defecating openly being photographed by municipality employees in Rajasthan was lynched.

Only 30 percent of the sewage generated by Indian cities is being treated as less than 65 percent of the municipal sewage treatment plants are active. It is being attributed to the high maintenance and operation costs it demands. According to DailyO, independent journalist and researcher Sopan Joshi says,

According to an estimate, 80 percent of the cost to treat wastewater is spent on laying network lines, water pumps, payment for electricity to run these pumps and other maintenance. It is also expected that the electricity and skilled manpower are already available which is usually not the case in our cities.

We need to look at the multi-faceted problems of dealing with sewage rather than assuming that flushing it down will solve our problems.

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