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Toilets For All: It’s Time To Walk The Talk

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PRIME Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious idea to provide toilets for all seems to have put most of the government machinery in mission mode. Taking a cue from the Prime Minister’s clarion call, different ministries have already started to draw up blueprints for executable plans to achieve the toilets-for-all agenda.

Addressing a conference for state education secretaries in New Delhi, Human Resources Minister Smriti Irani directed departments to “prepare an action plan for construction of toilets in all government schools so that the goal set by the Prime Minister for providing all government schools with toilets within one year becomes a reality.” Unlike other government announcements and initiatives, the minister set a deadline, saying states should meet the target by July 2015.

Similarly, speaking in a function at the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) in Hyderabad, Union Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu put the spotlight on DRDO-developed bio-toilets (called bio-digesters) that has been set up for the army in certain areas. Naidu noted the toilets could be used for the civilian population as well, saying, “The Prime Minister has already declared the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’, under which, by 2019, India should become Swachh Bharat. For that, you need to provide a toilet to each household both in rural and urban areas. This bio-toilet is something that is affordable and nature-friendly.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry for Drinking Water and Sanitation has prepared a Cabinet note for enhancement of monetary support for building different categories of rural toilets in the country. Under the new proposal, rural households without sanitation will get Rs. 15,000 each for constructing toilets while schools will get Rs. 54,000 for same purpose.

According to some reports, 50% of schools in states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, do not have toilets.

In fact, a number of other ministries are also preparing a road map to contribute their bit in what appears to be a national ambition. We spoke to a number of government functionaries who opine the biggest challenge in achieving this ambitious and not-so-easy target, be it of funding or partnering with credible implementation agencies and various departments, is preparing a collaborative strategy to facilitate the infusion of wp funds of corporate and public sector units and implement it through credible on-ground delivery partners.

Even the former UPA government had various initiatives to address the need for building at least one toilet for every household, with an aim to stop the shame and menace of open defecation, by providing subsidies to construct toilets and running sanitation and hygiene campaigns. The government spending on sanitation was increased almost three-fold in 2005. An award scheme was even introduced, in 2003, to reward village panchayats who had equipped all homes with toilets.

According to government reports, Himachal Pradesh has already managed to put a stop to open defecation and achieved the target of one toilet per household. Considering the size and small population of the state, it was perhaps an achievable target.

As the country gears up to witness a new chapter in economic development along with a more conscious and considerate social agenda, the toilets-for-all initiative is perhaps the first big inclusive and humane model of development, that will put India in the ranks of developed countries, stink free!