Building a 'Swachh Bharat' on borders

Reading our continuous coverage, an officer writes in: involve forces in building toilets

Somesh Goyal | October 28, 2014



Responding to prime minister Narendra Modi’s call to contribute to the realisation of Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of a Swachchh Bharat, or clean India, the corporate world has committed large sums to build toilets for girls in schools and women in rural India.

Here’s why that call is significant: only one-third households in India have toilets, and though urban areas have more toilets, sanitation and waste disposal still continue to be two big challenges. Water-borne diseases in rural areas due to open defecation and contamination of water sources are other resultant menaces of lack of hygienic private and public toilets.

That India lives in its villages is a fact well known. Seventy percent of the country’s population is rural; it depends on agriculture and makes up the bottom half of the economic wellness pyramid. Providing this facility is a gigantic, though not impossible, task, provided all resources at the command of policymakers are identified and judiciously deployed. After all, construction and maintenance of toilets is no rocket science, nor does it require complex engineering detail. Sulabh International is one organisation that has done seminal research in the field of designing and deploying technology to suit every environment at minimal cost. Its toilet designs are standardised, along with cost estimates, and are ready for implementation.

Government agencies such as central and state public works departments, border roads organisation and a lot of construction majors in the private sector, like L&T, involved in national infrastructure programmes need not be disturbed by diverting their resources towards this noble but low-tech, low-cost target. It should best be left to auxiliary agencies like the block-level bodies and state housing boards.

One hitherto unexploited major contributor in achieving the target at a good pace can be the paramilitary forces, particularly the border guarding forces which have their own engineering wings. These forces are deployed all along the country’s borders with China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar, and carry out a lot of civic action programmes for the border citizenry to develop micro-infrastructure, besides other activities like setting up medical and veterinary services for people and their livestock.

The dedicated engineering wing available with these forces can be leveraged to include the Swachchh  Bharat scheme in their annual action plans provided adequate funding is provided by the ministry concerned and, more importantly, trust is reposed in their capabilities.
The advantage of utilising this untapped resource is that the paramilitary personnel are the only face of the government in several far-flung areas and their knowledge of people and the terrain is phenomenal.

The education officers of border districts can provide lists of co-ed and girls schools which lack these facilities and sooner than later the aspiration of the country can be realised.

The involvement of paramilitary forces in this project will also do a world of good to the defence personnel who otherwise work in a very lonely and harsh environment. They will consider themselves part of the larger village family, thus finding some emotional cushion that may bring down incidents of suicide and fratricide in the forces. They will be perceived as friends of people and partners in their development, which will make their jobs more fulfilling.

The defence research and development organisation has also developed a bio-toilet for all terrains. It reduces reliance on water and can be utilised while executing the project to construct hygienic toilets in rural India.

At least a beginning in this direction can be made by commissioning a pilot project in the area of responsibility of each border guarding force. A review can be done after three to six months to further decide on the scope of their engagement. It is hoped that by galvanising all resources the next year’s World Toilet Day on November 19 may not raise so much stink.

Goyal, an IPS officer of 1984 batch, is on deputation with Sashastra Seema Bal

The story appeared in the October 16-31, 2014 issue

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