Bindeshwar Pathak, sanitation expert and founder of the prominent NGO Sulabh International, believes it is possible to provide toilets for all citizens across India in three years, but ministers need to focus and carry forward the commitment to deliver it.
Pathak, who was in London for a conference on India’s smart cities, told Hindustan Times on Thursday evening the bureaucracy could not be expected to lead, but to follow directives of ministers to implement such a massive project.
“The leadership and clarity is there at the top from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on this important issue, but ministers responsible for delivering need the vision to take it forward, and not expect the bureaucracy to lead the drive," Pathak, 73, said.
Presenting figures of the all-India challenge, Pathak said 120 million toilets can be constructed in three years with a budget of Rs 3.6 lakh crore (each toilet costing Rs 30,000, inclusive of cost escalation).
Besides subsidy from the government, potential sources for funding include corporate social responsibility (CSR) budgets of thousands of Indian companies, non-resident Indians, bank loans and contribution from beneficiaries.
“It will not only provide employment in our 2.51 lakh panchayats and 6.46 lakh villages, but also ensure the sustained maintenance of toilets,” he said.
Backed with 45 years of award-winning experience in providing low-cost sanitation in India and other countries, Sulabh’s approach is based on partnerships with local governments, backed by community participation. It ensures maintenance and follow-up of projects.
“It does not matter if we are part of this initiative but I can say that only the low-cost Sulabh model based on two-pit pour flush compost toilet technology can ensure that India is free of open defecation. They can take our model, but the government alone cannot do it,” he said.
Earlier this month, Sulabh opened the world’s largest public toilet facility in the holy city of Pandharpur in Maharashtra, with nearly 2,800 seats. Pathak said Sulabh had so far constructed 8,500 public toilets and 1.5 million in homes.