The value of Indian currency has touched a new low, current account deficit is posing grave problem, the food security ordinance by the congress led UPA-II central government has created lots of political uproar before the ensuing Lok Sabha elections and the latest terrorist attack on Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, the place where Lord Buddha got enlightenment - all these issues have been engaging the attention of Indian public for the last few weeks. Nevertheless, the power that be , whether at the center or in the states did try to convince the countrymen that necessary measures are being taken to address all these issues. Amidst these promises, the common man who has been bearing the brunt of these decisions in the name of reforms is still living in an age for which every policy maker/planner and the ruling political class should be thoroughly ashamed of.
Prima facie, it is really hard to believe that 60% people of India defecate in the open even after more than 60 years of planning process ; a state like Bihar which has been registering an average state GDP growth of more than 10% for the last seven years, is still known as a state where about 67 percent of rural population does not have access to basic sanitation facilities.
The next few minutes would take you through some revealing facts about the basic sanitation scenario still prevailing in this second most populous country - a country having a GDP size of two trillion dollar and whose GDP growth rate has been better than that of many well off countries at least during last one decade.
It is interesting to note that "Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan" - Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) was launched way back in 1999-2000 which aimed at motivating rural households to build toilets and encouraging their use to finally achieve an ODF (Open Defecation Free) environment and also make the rural people realize the need for good sanitation practices. The main strategy for implementation of this nation-wide program has been ‘community led’ and ‘people centred’.
But, even after more than a decade, the sordid fact remains. India is termed as the world's capital of open defecation. 53% Indian population lack sanitation facilities, where as it is only 7% in case of Bangladesh and Brazil. More than 60% of households in Uttrakhand, Orissa, Bihar, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan are without toilets. Only 28,000 Gram Panchayats (GPs) are declared as "Nirmal Gram" under TSC program out of 2.4 lac GPs in the country.
By any scale of analysis and judgment, this can be said to be absolutely disgraceful and completely unacceptable. Even Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Rural Development, did term it as a matter of shame and sorrow, anguish and anger while asserting, ‘Gandhiji gave ‘Quit India’ call in Sevagram for freedom struggle and today I appeal to all of you to make villages open defecation free because it’s an issue of country’s pride.’
In all probability, as a follow up action, the union minister initiated few commendable measures including spearheading an emotive and eye catching awareness campaign where in one can see the Bollywood blockbuster film 'Dirty Picture' and ‘Kahaani’ fame actress, Vidya Balan in a nicely shot social advertisement stressing the need of having a toilet for each family in rural India.
No doubt, a few states have taken encouraging initiatives in this direction. Sikkim is one of them and it has earned the honor of becoming the first state in the country which is Open-Defecation Free. Kerala and Himachal Pradesh will soon be in that bracket.
But, what about states like Bihar and UP, to name only major ones? Jan Willem Rosenboom of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) says, "Of all the people in the world who defecate in open, most live in India. To address this global issue, progress is needed to be made in India, and for that to happen, this issue needs to be addressed in states like Bihar." Will the government in Bihar led by a known follower of great socialist leader, Ram Manohar Lohia address this issue of basic sanitation particularly defecation in the open on highest priority?
*Worked in Banking & Insurance Sector for three decades following three years of active writing in various newspapers & magazines. Presently, engaged as a Stress Management & Wellness Consultant besides being a Freelance Writer