The Bhopal city authorities have failed to curb open defecation even next to the seat of power, underlining the massive challenge the state faces in persuading large sections of its population to adopt a more hygienic way of life.
Officials and activists admit that open defecation not far from state secretariat and assembly was a challenge to the nationwide Swachch Bharat campaign launched by the Narendra Modi government.
Official data show that members of as many as 86.9% households in Madhya Pradesh defecate in the open and the state was ranked second in the list of bad performers after Jharkhand.
The Swachch Bharat Mission aims at attaining a 100 per cent open defecation-free India by 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
The main objective of the programme is to bring about an improvement in the general quality of life by promoting cleanliness, hygiene and eliminating open defecation and accelerate sanitation coverage.
In Bhopal, there are about 380 slums and hardly there is any slum which has proper sanitation facility. In the absence of open areas, defecation is done by the roadside and open grounds.
In the VVIP areas of Bhopal having the legislative assembly, Vallabh Bhawan (secretariat) and Satpura Bhawan, hundreds of people who live in slums relieve themselves in open spaces and by the roadside.
The other prime locations which witness open defecation include 1100 Quarters, Near Institute of Hotel Management, Anna Nagar, Arera Hills and Link Road no. 3, official sources said.
"In Bhopal, public toilets were available in just four out of 30 slums, and only 2% of people used them due to their distance from households, poor maintenance and a lack of water for hygiene practices. There was also a charge to use the toilets that many women could not afford. The remaining 98% resorted to defecating in the open," said a WaterAid survey report released a few years ago.
There is not much difference in the situation even now in the city.
Talking to Hindustan Times, a resident of Vallabh Nagar, Veena Mishra, 65, said, "This is a matter of shame for us that women and girls have to defecate in the open. (The) government is spending crore of rupees on publicity campaign but they are hardly bothered about embarrassment women have to face daily here."
When HT asked people of Anna Nagar about their problems related to sanitation they were not aware if Swachch Bharat campaign covered urban areas.
Shera Kadole, 30, said, "In villages, government is forcing residents to use toilets but in the urban area, government is forcing people to defecate in open in the absence of facility."
Open defecation unsafe for girls
To defecate in open is not only unhygienic but also unsafe for girls.
The WaterAid survey said, "94% of the women and girls interviewed in Bhopal said that they faced violence or harassment in some form when going out to defecate, and more than a third had been physically assaulted. More than half the women defected alone in the open, with most feeling unsafe while doing so."
Imrati Mohe (45) of Anna Nagar said, "My daughter-in-law feels embarrassed when she goes out to answer nature’s call. Indecent comments are common problems which girls face here."
At Bheem Nagar slum, located near MP Assembly, Reena Ashiye, 25, said, "We can’t afford to spend our meager income on using toilets."
'Govt not constructing community and individual toilets'
WaterAid, urban sanitation in-charge Chanchla Modi said, "MP government is not paying attention to the construction of community toilets and individual toilets in slum areas of big cities like Bhopal and Indore."
"In December, central government has made community toilets and individual toilets compulsory in urban areas irrespective of ownership of the land but even after five months, state government didn’t take any step in this regard," he added.
Mayor Alok Sharma said, “We would take the initiative in this regard with the Centre’s funds under Swachata Abhiyan. We will construct public toilets in the slums, which would not be removed in future."
Principal secretary for urban development Malay Shrivastava too said the government is "running several schemes to solve this problem."