The present paper is part of a bigger ICSSR-sponsored study entitled Social Inequities in Living Conditions in India wherein data on “housing condition, household amenities and household assets” were analysed in detail from those obtained from the Census of India 2011. Two aspects that are directly related with “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”—availability of latrine and drainage facility within the premises—have been considered here
It is now well known that the present NDA government launched a scheme “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” (Clean India Mission) on October 02, 2014 with a view to have every village and every town to be clean by 2019. This scheme envisages a toilet in every house by the above date. We discuss here the various issues involved in meeting the requirements for toilets in different parts of the country in next four years. The other important issue in this regard is ‘waste water disposal’ from the dwelling unit.
It may be noted that the present paper is part of a bigger study entitled Social Inequities in Living Conditions in India wherein data on “housing condition, household amenities and household assets” were analysed in detail from those obtained from the Census of India 2011. Two aspects that are directly related with “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”—availability of latrine and drainage facility within the premises —have been considered here.
Considering the availability of latrine facility within the premises which is an important dimension of “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”, it may be noted that at the national level a little less than half of the households had the same, their percentage in rural India stood at 30.7 per cent whereas in urban India it was 81.4 per cent. Public toilet is not a common concept in India as just 3.2 per cent of the total, 1.9 per cent of rural and 6.0 per cent of urban households had used this facility in 2011.
While looking for the latrine facility within the premises, it was noted that the same was available to at least two-thirds of the households in five states—Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi and Kerala. In fact, 95 per cent of the households in Kerala and 90 per cent in Delhi had the facility within the premises. In contrast, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh were other five states that had latrine facility within premises in less than 30 per cent of the households. The remaining states lay between these two limits. One would be happy to note that barely three per cent of household members in Delhi and four percent in Kerala defecated in forests or other open spaces. It is obvious that rural households were more deprived of this facility than total or urban households.
Toilet Facility by Social Groups
It may be noted at the outset that scheduled castes (SC) population comprising around 16 per cent of the country’s population is interspersed all over the country whereas the scheduled tribes (ST) (around 8 percent) is concentrated in north-east India and forms a belt from Odisha to Gujarat and Rajasthan. Almost 90 per cent of ST population lives in rural areas. Further, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab do not have ST population.
Regarding latrine facility within the premises, it was only one-third of the SC households that had toilet facility in the premises; whereas it was less than one-fourth of the ST households that had this facility. The situation in rural areas was worse where 75 per cent of the SC and 82 per cent of the ST households were using forests, fields and other open spaces for defecation.
As indicated above, SC and ST households were more deprived in having toilet facility within the premises. In fact, 90 per cent or more of the ST households were using open spaces or forests in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Rajasthan. Again, more than 70 per cent of ST household in Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir and Madhya Pradesh and roughly the same percentage of SC households in Jammu & Kashmir had no option but to use open spaces (Figure 1). It is noteworthy that adolescents and young women face innumerable problems in this regard.
An important question here is: “Why the governments concerned have failed to provide toilet facility to individual households or at least common toilets in most of the states in India.” There could be two reasons for not having a toilet in the dwelling unit especially in rural areas: First, the practice of going to open spaces/fields for natural calls in India is an age-old tradition and people have accepted it as a way of life. Second, people do not prefer toilets inside the premises because of foul smell; instead they prefer to go for a walk (especially males) in the open air and use fields. To break this tradition is a daunting task for the government and various social institutions.
Moreover, cleaning a regular toilet requires quite a lot of water. In many villages, water has to be brought from distant places; therefore, instead of bringing water for toilet cleaning it is easier to use open fields to attend to nature’s call. The advertisements on radio and TV while propagating the idea of latrine within the premises should take note of these problems. There is a new concept of “bio-toilets” that need minimal water for cleaning. This might be an alternative but its cost factor will have to be kept in mind.
Data on drainage facility have been tabulated in 2011 census by classifying households having ‘closed drainage’, ‘open drainage’ and ‘no drainage.’ Since having ‘no drainage’ facility and throwing waste water in the lane, street, or in open spaces is likely to adversely affect people’s health, data on households having ‘no drainage’ have been analysed here. It is noticed that Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra are the five good states where less than one-third of the households have no drainage facility. In contrast, one notices that situation is bad in this regard in Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal where more than two-thirds of the households have no drainage and throw waste water in the open. Further, the situation is worse in rural areas as most of the villages do not have any drainage system.
Drainage Facility by Social Groups
The position in respect of social groups is reflected in Figure 2. It may be noted that ST sub-population has suffered the most by not having drainage facilities in their locations (mostly rural). The differences in not having drainage facilities by ST households in comparison to other social groups are large in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan (Figure 2). We notice that the situation was bad in Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal where more than three-fifths of the households in all the three social groups did not have drainage facility.
The task of controlling waste water disposal is huge since most of the villages have no drainage facility. The investment in laying drains in each and every village in all the states and union territories will run into several lakh crores in the next few years. The related problem is of discharging this waste water. This cannot be put into village pond whose water people use for household purposes, and, at places, even for drinking. Hence, an alternative to waste water disposal (as also village solid waste) has to be found out. It is understood that one way for waste water disposal is making ‘soak pits’ where water goes into the soil. In villages one ‘soak pit’ can be functional for 4-5 houses. Moreover, there is no maintenance cost involved in this respect. In fact, this water in the ‘soak pit’ would recharge ground water. State governments might like to examine the cost factor in this regard.
Thus, constructing latrine in the premises and its use by household members requires an attitudinal change of the masses which is a daunting task. Further, It is learnt that toilets built in institutions have occasionally been used as store rooms. Moreover, cleaning a toilet within premises requires a lot of water. In a large proportion of villages water even for household use has to be brought from a distance. Hence, people have no alternative other than using open spaces for defecation.
(The author is a former Professor at J.N.U., New Delhi.)
By Mahendra Premi