India to end open defecation and save people the blushes

Ram Kripal Yadav, minister of state for drinking water & sanitation, talks about the challenges to turn India into an open defecation-free country.

sweta-ranjan

Sweta Ranjan | May 2, 2016 | New Delhi


#swachh bharat abhiyaan   #Ram Kripal Yadav   #open defecation   #narendra modi  
Ram Kripal Yadav, minister of state for drinking water & sanitation
Photo: Arun Kumar

An estimated half of India’s 1.2 billion people do not have access to toilets, forcing them to defecate in the open. Ram Kripal Yadav, minister of state for drinking water and sanitation talks about the challenges as well as the efforts to turn India into an open defecation-free country.
 
What is being done for half of India which does not have access to toilets?
Since Narendra Modi took charge, this ministry is being recognised for its efforts. We started with Swachh Bharat mission on October 2, 2014. A lot of advertisements are being issued to create awareness among people. We have set a target to turn our country into an open defecation-free (ODF) country by 2019. After independence, Narendra Modi is the first prime minister who has worked to create awareness regarding sanitation. No prime minister had made this effort earlier to speak on sanitation, especially during the independence day address to the nation. It is showing its impact. Fund is being allotted to states. This matter comes under the jurisdiction of states. Unless there is states’ co-operation, this mission will not be able to be successful. Now, more than 48 percent toilets have been constructed pan India. Many states like Sikkim* have become ODF.
 
What are the sanitation related challenges in India? How is your ministry going to tackle them?
Many states have not been able to perform well as per the set target. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh belong to this category. In Bihar, I have watched the situation minutely. In Uttar Pradesh, I have visited many districts [and] I have been to five states of the northeast. Similarly, I have visited Punjab and south India. If we do a comparative study, in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh lack of awareness is a major hurdle. 
 
Are you saying there are problems in states where the BJP is not in power? 
I don’t mean to say that, because it has nothing to do with which party is ruling a particular state. When I visited these two states, the ground reality is different. Recently I visited Uttar Pradesh. Firstly, it is not catching up with the speed with which toilets need to be constructed. Secondly, at many levels, people are not feeling motivated. And the biggest challenge is to change the mindset of people. Swachh Bharat mission mostly stresses on behavioural change. This cannot be forced upon the people.  
 
You mean to say that open defecation is mostly due to mindset. But isn’t infrastructural availability also a factor? 
In many states, I have noticed that an amount of Rs 12,000 is sufficient [to build one toilet] but in many other states this amount seems insufficient. It depends a lot on the willingness of the state governments. Bihar might see some progress in coming days. The state has not been able to rightly use the amount allotted in the last financial year. Handling the hurdles is the duty of the state governments. The central government only provides financial and technical assistance.  
 
As many as 1.39 crore toilets constructed by the government remain unused. Why? 
There are a lot of issues related to this. Mindset could be one major reason since if toilets are constructed but not being used then who will bear the responsibility? Until and unless people don’t support, this will not be successful. This mission needs to take the shape of a mass movement. People should make up their minds that they will defecate only in toilets and not in the open.  
 
Across the world, nearly 60 percent of people defecating in open are from India. What is Swachh Bharat Mission doing about it? 
It is not possible to change centuries-old mindset in just two years. But the efforts are being made under the Swachh Bharat mission. With the help of state governments as well as central and state bureaucracy, we are trying to make a collaborative effort. We have roped in aanganwadi sewikas also to generate awareness. 
 
Your ministry has set a target of constructing 10 crore toilets by 2019. But would just constructing toilets help as there are already many toilets in the rural areas where people are facing water shortage? 
The state governments have to take care of this because we have already increased the money allocation from Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000. The extra Rs 2,000 is given to facilitate toilets with water. This is a sahyog rashi. I agree, there are many areas where this amount is not sufficient. 
 
But does the responsibility of the  government end here? Don’t you have to also ensure that the money allotted is being rightly used?
We have a monitoring mechanism for this. Our officials and ministers regularly carry out inspections. I personally visit and the secretaries also monitor. Every three-four months they conduct meetings. We have a proper system. We don’t only just pay and not bother about the results. We not only have a monitoring mechanism but also do review meets. We do spot visits. We have field officers to ensure that the work is happening [but] the central government cannot do anything about the states which are non-performers. We all have to collectively work in this direction. The prime minister alone will not be able to give results. 
 
All household must have at least one toilet to enable family members, particularly women, to attend the nature’s call in privacy. There is also a concern for safety of women. How is it going to be achieved? 
Some 70-80 percent of the rape cases are related to ODF. A minister was recently sharing that the women in villages don’t want to defecate in open. We feel embarrassed when we are moving in our cars and get the sight of women defecating in open. It is a matter of shame for us to see women defecating in the open even after 68 years of independence.  
 
Supply of clean and adequate drinking water is another challenge in our country. What measures are being taken in this regard? 
By 2022, with the means of pipelines water will be made available to every citizen of the country. My ministry has taken the decision to spread awareness regarding usage of surface water. Water from canals and rivers needs to be treated and used. The central government has set a target to fight this issue by 2022, but it requires support from states. 

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(The interview appears in May 1-15, 2016 edition of Governance Now)

* The earlier version of the interview erroneously mentioned "Many states like Manipur have become ODF."

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