India has little to celebrate on World Toilet Day

  • Reni Jacob, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Nov 20, 2015 01:30 IST
Members of Sulabh International rally for decent sanitation on the occasion of World Toilet Day in Hyderabad. (AFP Photo)

For Sita, a 10-year-old girl from one of New Delhi’s slums, going to a toilet every morning is an ordeal. Without a toilet at home, her only resort is the community toilet. Since there is always a long queue, Sita prefers to use the school toilet instead — on a daily basis. The government school, till recently, had only two for 400 children. Facing a lack of water and cleaning staff, the school restricted the students from using the toilets.

India has little to celebrate on World Toilet Day, with the country accounting for more than half of the 1.1 billion people who defecate in the open globally. According to the 2011 Census, 18.6% households in cities do not have toilets. For the girls living in slums in our cities, the only toilet that they have access to without fear of sexual harassment is in their schools. The number of schools having separate toilet facilities for girls has increased from 0.4 million (37%) in 2005-06 to almost 1 million in 2013-14 (91%). However, only 31.5% of girls’ toilets and 27.4% of boys’ toilets have running water. Though there is an increase in coverage of toilets in schools, many are dysfunctional and unusable.

According to the WHO, India spent 0.2% of GDP on sanitation, paling in comparison to Pakistan’s 0.4% and Nepal’s 0.8% — a notably lower spend compared to our poorer and geographically smaller neighbours. This needs to be read against the backdrop of the World Bank’s recent assessment that the economic loss to India due to inadequate sanitation facilities is Rs 2,40,000 crore — around 6.4% of GDP.

The allocation for the ministry of drinking water and sanitation for 2015-16 (BE) was Rs 6,243.87 crore, with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Urban) being allotted Rs 1,000 crore. However, the recent move on the decentralisation of funding and operations to the states is one that could potentially dilute the focus of the initiative. It is now up to the states to increase the spending on the programme and the implementation of this depends on the respective state’s capacity to spend, which could vary for the worse.

The government launched the Swachh Vidyalaya initiative in 2014 for constructing toilets and repairing dysfunctional ones in schools. The Swachh Bharat Kosh was set up to attract funding for this initiative from PSUs and the corporate sector. But the commitment to support building toilets in schools has not yet been met. Unless this is achieved and the system awakens, the school toilet scenario will continue to suffer.

Reni Jacob is director-advocacy, World Vision India, Chennai

The views expressed are personal

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