What of the basic requirement: Water? Building style & technique- are they user friendly?
We have been on a national drive to build toilets in cities for the convenience of commuters, in villages to phase out defecation in the open areas, a trend that leads to multiple diseases and quite often, deaths. Unnecessary loss of talent and skill. Along with ensuring better sanitation and hygiene, this drive of a cleaner India would initiate cleaning of diverse kinds. It would ensure safety of women. Women in rural areas either refrain from using the open fields at night which is hazardous to health or become soft targets to prowler men when they are compelled to venture out. Encouraging the building and use of toilets would help them to be dually safeguarded. Quite often adverts of women questioning the groom, husband to be, about availability of these much essential structures are telecast. A fine way of driving home the point that toilets are a mandatory part of a house, as much as a kitchen. Print media has cited some examples of daring women who exercised their right to say NO when they learnt that their prospective husband’s house does not offer this humble facility and thus marred privacy too. Such display of assertiveness and determination will help India climb higher in the ranks of countries that strongly believe in sanitation. Consequently, it will also rise in the index of visitor friendly nations.
State and Central governments are outdoing themselves in setting up these centres of convenience at a rapid pace. Just last Saturday Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, declared that 38 lakh toilets will be set up in Maharashtra in the next two years i.e. by 2018. His assurance of an open defecation free Maharashtra State came at the Global Citizen Festival, held at Mumbai.
Such proclamations sound grand and revolutionary. But the question then arises, how hygienic are these toilets being made for public convenience? Are they being built in a hurry to match declared numbers or does the scheme truly have the general good in mind. If that, then these structures would not choke on use or be deficient in water and thus become unusable. Like all grand schemes, this one too seems to be more focussed on numbers, in a hurry to attain the targets set. Is this venture, similar to the promise of rural electrification which began with a gusto? However, the electricity supply which was provided after decades began to play hide and seek with the natives- here at the blink of an eye and gone with the next one only to return after hours or even days. All good intentions must have a back-up plan. Am I the kinds who sees a glass half empty? No, I belong to the sect which would rather see it full, truly so. Whether it is demonetisation or electrification or toilet building spree. Strength is not in numbers alone, but in quality. We all know how a few Pandavas by themselves created an army sufficient to defeat the numerous Kauravas. Tactic and numbers helped. Ambitious figures declared during political speeches could be made more attainable, more genuine. This would add quality and then numbers would rise as well.
Lack of facilities has not been the only concern in this venture. Since old habits die hard, people who count stars as they relieve themselves or converse and socialise, converting a private activity into a social venture, cannot be easily convinced. The open-air beckons, as do expansive lands. Changing mindsets and generation old conventions would require more than just constructions. It calls for building thoughts and opening minds towards usage, together with setting up these centres of hygiene. Engaging the youth, giving them incentives to promote toilet usage amongst the rural folk might help in this area. It’s been rightly stated in an article in Business Standard, “For an emerging country like India, it is easier to take part in exploratory missions to Mars than to tackle its sanitation challenge.” Innumerable examples abound in villages and towns where toilets have been built but remain locked either because they would become dirty or because people prefer the open to the closed precincts of a restrictive toilet.
It is changed mindsets, improved quality and adequate techniques of building that will ensure the success of a dream of a Swachh Bharat (Clean India) and the Abhiyan (Campaign) would be a total success. Be it the Total Sanitation Campaign (1999) or Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (2014)- the purpose would be met- to ensure a clean, hygienic and subsequently healthy India. Wouldn’t that be an opening to the tourism sector too?