Sunday , 24 March 2019

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan Floating On The Surface

The missionaries of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan never tire of sermonizing that the awareness of cleanliness must be inculcated early in life: If children understand the values of cleanliness they will grow as staunch sentinels of ‘swachhta’ in adult life. However, sermonizing alone cannot make the children aware of cleanliness. Many of Goa’s government and aided schools do not have proper toilet facilities. The schools do not have money to pay for workers to keep the toilets clean. The government does not have enough money to give them for hiring a worker especially for keeping the toilets clean. Is this the way to inculcate the value of ‘swachhta’ among children? On the contrary, this promotes acceptance of un-cleanliness! Children going to schools with ill-maintained toilets will internalize a notion that the government, the school management and the teachers accept un-cleanliness as a part of school life and they should also do so.

There are anganwadis which do not have toilets. Anganwadis are government crèches meant to take care of little children whose parents are working. These children at the earliest stage of their life learn that the older people who run anganwadis do not much bother about cleanliness. When schools and anganwadis do not provide facilities for personal hygiene the children are forced to answer calls of nature elsewhere. That means spread of un-cleanliness, not cleanliness. In such an environment, children are forced to learn the bad habit of answering the call of nature anywhere. The state government has passed a law against urinating in public. Does a state government that cannot provide proper toilet facilities in schools have a moral right to enforce this law?

Similar is the case with open air defecation. Goa has been slowest in creating and declaring open defecation free areas and villages. For years, the state has been talking of taking steps to curb open defecation in the villages and towns. The focus has been on migrants who work on building and road construction sites and are hired by contractors who do not provide them toilet facilities on the plea that they do not have means to do so. Migrant workers defecate on beaches and behind roadside trees. The migrants who lease in rooms for accommodation are not given toilet facilities by their landlords. The tenants are forced to go for open defecation. The government, the district administration, the municipal bodies and panchayats have failed to check open defecation. They will never succeed until they tackle the basic factors that drive labour contractors and landlords to deny the migrants toilet facilities.

A report in this newspaper says more than 9,000 houses in the Ponda taluka do not have toilets. More or less similar situation exists in other talukas. The residents have to go for open defecation in the fields and woods. The government has been promising to make 60,000 bio-toilets for the past two years. Nothing on the scheme has taken off, and it is likely to be delayed indefinitely as the survey for collecting information on the basis of which these bio-toilets would be given is still under way. Even when the survey is complete and bio-toilets are distributed, the government and the municipal and panchayat bodies cannot be sure whether they will be used.

Giving every home a toilet is a slogan that is not easy to implement. It has been found problematic across the country, and Goa faces problems too. When we speak of a toilet, we envision space for it. It means the owner of the home must have land of his/her own to build a toilet. The reality is that most of the small homes that do not have toilet do not have land for building one. The owners have used the maximum space for residential purpose. The problem is that even if a small home has some space to build a toilet they do not want it for various reasons including stench in the absence of running water facility and constant waste disposal.

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan cannot be said to be moving in the right direction unless we find a solution to the complex problems the institutions and people face. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been floating on the surface of water like a child learning swimming in a pool. The Abhiyan has to go into the depth of the waters to become really meaningful. There are financial issues involved in providing clean toilets to schools and toilets to anganwadis which need to be tackled. There are human rights violations by landlords leasing out rooms without toilet which need to be addressed. There are land issues involved in giving every home a toilet which need to tackled.

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