India’s declaration on the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi that its rural areas are now open defecation-free will be acknowledged around the world as a milestone in its developmental journey.

In 2014, the NDA government made total sanitation a high priority, through a policy focused on toilet construction. That 110 million toilets were built under this programme since then counts as an achievement in itself, even though many do not meet construction standards.

Lack of use of toilets
One independent survey shows toilets are not used by up to half the population in some places, showcasing the challenge ahead.

It is welcome, therefore, that an ODF-Plus programme has been adopted by the Ministry of Jal Shakti to encourage toilet use and create the infrastructure to manage solid and liquid waste in every village.

Questions over community participation
Central government can hope to achieve sustainable outcomes in open defecation free status only if it prioritises community participation. The campaign has erred in its approach in many instances, opting for coercive methods that produce dreadful consequences.

Infact, officials and campaigners have resorted to violence, public shaming and the threat of deprivation of welfare benefits to bring about compliance. Such methods must be ended immediately and voluntary participation encouraged.

Manual scavenging concerns
Of concern too is a possible resort to illegal manual scavenging, since many toilets built under the Swachh Bharat Mission are not of the prescribed twin-pit design, and will need periodic evacuation. Despite widely reported cases, the Centre does not appear to be eager to eliminate manual waste removal through a war-like effort, under which all States will install sewage and sludge treatment plants. Neither are States keen to strictly enforce the law that makes the practice punishable.

Way forward
In the years ahead, making sanitation universal and sustainable will depend not just on toilets, but on providing decent urban and rural housing, and strengthening another key determinant of development — the right to a good education.

Source: The Hindu