Ending open defecation: The drive must go beyond mascots, jingles – even toilets

Ending open defecation: The drive must go beyond mascots, jingles – even toilets. Scroll.In, January 3, 2017.

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Image credit: NDMC handout

Even as Mumbai enlists the star power of Salman Khan to end open defecation and Delhi has its turbaned Swachh Sewak mascots patrolling the streets, whistling at and fining the guilty, the underlying lacunae that make people defecate in the open see little discussion and go almost completely unaddressed. A problem that should not take more than a year to be solved nationally, if addressed in mission mode, drags on through one scheme after the other.

The populist efforts are driven more by the aim of safeguarding the sensibilities of the privileged than out of a feeling of empathy for those who must go through the indignity of open defecation. A sincere desire to solve the problem is wanting. The Swachh Bharat Mission makes the right noises but lacks in empowering municipal officials adequately. Nice videos and musical jingles can only take you so far. The real difference comes from silent work carried out by a taskforce staffed with deeply committed and talented people.

In the urban context, especially, the issue becomes more complex. Land is scarce and has higher economic value, and urban planning and equitable housing policies have been neglected for a very long time. Open defecation arises from a neglect of these fundamental issues rather than just from the absence of adequate toilets. While we decide what we want to do with planning and governing our cities better, in the interim, it should not be difficult to construct a high number of high quality toilets, which become a natural attraction for those defecating in the open.

Read the complete article.

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