|By Vijay D'Souza, U.K. [ Published Date: December 1, 2005 ]|
One of the most unpleasant things about our cities is the spectacle of people defecating in the open. However crude it might seem to the civilized eye, the guilty person may not be the only one to be blamed for this act. They, like us must have resigned to the fallacy of fate without questioning whether they will ever be able to lead a dignified life. At this stage of our nation’s history, even the most underprivileged of citizens deserve better. One argument above all should prompt people to get rid of this system that it shows us in a very bad taste, however greatly we may boast of our culture. So far apart from political rhetoric, nothing has given the impression to suggest any serious plan of action to improve the lives of such people. The reasons could be plenty as to why we aren’t able to eradicate this problem. However, in a country like India, the progress made in this regard should be as plain as the nose on the face.
People move about in herds to cities in search of job and at times in a vain hope of finding better life. Without shelter, they are likely to occupy uninhabited land near their workplace. Lacking any financial backing of their own, these squatters are left to the mercy of fortune. Their only realistic hope remains on the assumption that one day their place would be included in the intermittent regularisation scheme of slums by the Government. Nevertheless, because of their number they become a captive vote bank. Opportunist politicians find them as an easy target group and get elected on the shallow promise of regularising their dwelling. The corrupt authorities colluding with politicians help legitimise their status as eligible citizens to vote.
Regularisations of slums take very long time to materialise and till then slum-dwellers live in inhuman conditions. Until then, they are unlikely to have proper supply of essentials like water or electricity or any efficient means of dumping the waste. These people may not realise their leader’s promises instead their dwellings becomes the major hurdle in future panning of the city. Civic bodies or politicians do not bother about infusing minimum living standards in these places. However, they do not stop promising regularisation either, often leaving the slum dwellers with an uncertain future. Such slum-dwellers continue to live in these conditions of non-existent hygiene and sanitation. India, despite showing sound economic growth, many of its citizens are still considered as worlds most poor. The glaring contrast between very rich and very poor creates social disparity. In such circumstances often the lure of easy money helps these people to plunge into the world of crime.
The administration does not show the courage to face the problem head-on at its infancy. There is hardly any system to keep track or control the migration from villages to cities. There is no limit as to how many people could move into any region (city) and their obligation if they did. Local authorities let the slums develop under their very nose. Once established, it becomes very difficult to remove these slums and before long such squatters fight for their right to abode. To share the resources from already stretched infrastructure is simply impossible. In such a scenario even the noble thought of providing water and removing sewage can only be termed as blind optimism. Besides, on what moral grounds can the government displace them and where to? In Mumbai alone half of the city's population lives in poorly built houses, with no sanitation. Since the first slums’ survey in 1976-77, each elected government, has extended the cut-off deadline for regularisation by five years. No doubt the Mumabi Government is in debt exceeding Rs 100,000 crore (The Telegraph).
Everyday nearly 2,000 children die of diseases caused by unhygienic behaviour of people because of lack of basic sanitation facilities (BSF) in the country, according to a WHO report. Recently, Director of Central Rural Sanitation Programme, Kumar Alok, quoting a report of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said every year over half-a-million children are dying because of diseases caused by lack of basic sanitation facilities in India. According to him in 1980 only one per cent population was equipped with in-house BSF. The first nation-wide sanitation program launched by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 improved the situation to the extent that by 2003, nearly 34 per cent of the population had in-house BSF. However, if the scenario of only rural India is taken into consideration, then only 20 per cent of the population was covered so far.
The Ministry of Urban Development, which supports external aided water supply and sanitation sector, has so far implemented 17 projects with World Bank/French assistance. According to this, since 1981 the Ministry has spent over Rs 1740 crores on Bombay water Supply & Sanitation Project alone. A further Rs 1131 crores has been spent on Mumbai Sewage Disposal Project since 2003. Whatever the statistics may claim, the extent of the progress made is hardly visible. Most well maintained public toilets are run by private organisations like “Sulabh Souchalay”. Not sure why big corporations or entrepreneurs cannot join in to exploit this idea into potential business. In Parliament Questions record (Lok Sabha) there are about 30 cases of discussion addressed to the ministry of Rural development, Urban Development, Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation, Health and Family Welfare and Railways. If it is the way of sharing the enormity of the burden between many ministries, it doesn’t explain anything other than wholesome confusion.
When they finally decide to do something, they create more problems in the name of development. Like keeping up with its promise of modernizing, Mumbai Government started to evict the occupants of the slums displacing nearly 200,000 people, but freeing up to 300 acres of land (Frontline). The rehabilitation of these people should have been government’s first priority before eviction. Isn’t it better to inform them about the eventual outcome (potential eviction) and help them build better lives elsewhere before they start their livelihood in cities? In the name of development they are more likely to curtail the progress because of forced eviction. These people are the life-blood of the society and help run cities with their contribution, mainly in unorganised sector. For example, in Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums, covering 530 acres near the airport, some 100,000 people produce goods worth over 500m USD (US Dollars) a year (The Economist).
According to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, by 2030, more than 60 per cent of the world's population will live in cities, up from almost half now. Growth invites unavoidable problems ranging from clean water supplies to garbage collection and already, one of every three urban dwellers lives in a slum. It is unrealistic to plan to eradicate poverty or limiting disease outbreaks without rectifying the current state of slums and sanitation.
On the brighter side, it is not all that gloomy and is at long last attracting attention of legislators. P. Chidambaram, Minister of Finance while presenting his budget for 2005-06 went on to say that sanitation remains critically deficient. Only about 30 per cent of the rural households have access to safe sanitation facilities. The Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) which operates in 452 districts will be extended to all districts. World Bank too announced its decision to step up the funding for water related projects by five times, to four billion USD in the next four years. Over the next four years, the bank will lend 700 million USD for rural water and sanitation and 100 million USD for urban water and sanitation.
Ms Lizzet Burgers, a representative of UNICEF for the Indian sub-continent, recently said that due to massive efforts by the Indian Government and the focus given by the world on India as an emerging economy in the world, the country will achieve its target under the project “BSF for All by 2012,” she said. Ms Burgers said that India would be free from the problem of non-availability of the BSF in rural and urban India in the coming years, as the United Nations too has realised its importance and has given an equal weightage to it on par with drinking water problem being faced by the developing nations.
As things stand, it looks like villagers have taken a march over city people. A total of 38 Gram Panchayats and two Block Panchayats from six states were awarded in the first Nirmal Gram Puraskar (Award for clean Village). On this occasion, Dr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Minister for Rural Development said that sanitation is one of the highest priorities of Government and therefore it has been decided that there would not be any shortage of funds. He informed that Govt of India has already increased its allocation from Rs. 400 crore in 2004-2005 to Rs. 700 crore in 2005-2006. All the districts would be brought under Total Sanitation Campaign by next financial year and all rural schools and Anganwadis (nursery school) will be provided with water and sanitation facilities by the end of 10th Five Year Plan Period so as to achieve open defecation free India by 2012. One just wishes to see it happen at least in this life time.
In Karnataka too, centrally sponsored Total Sanitation Campaign has been launched with a target of constructing over 2,000,000 toilets across the state. The government also aims at the construction of over 33,000 toilets in schools and over 23,000 toilets in anganawadis in next two years. Cooperative Mangaloreans could contribute meaningfully towards initiating basic sanitation in their schools and villages and catch the imagination of the nation through their exemplary endeavour. May be that day is not so far off, when we shall see an end to the unfortunate practice of open defecation and urination. If you think it is wishful thinking of fantasist, it isn’t, not if people decide to become proactive. Sarpanch (Village head) of Raj Samadhiyala Panchayat of Rajkot district of Gujarat who received the Nirmal Gram Puraskar award has been invited by the Pakistan government to share experience in local governance especially in promoting the cause of cleanliness.