Toilets, good drainage vital for a disease-free India
Given India has constructed just 4.6 lakh of the target of 25 lakh individual toilets in urban India, and barely a fourth of the 1 lakh community/public toilets in the first year of the Swachh Bharat Mission, it is not surprising the government chose to be rather low-key about its first anniversary. Indeed, the photo-ops of celebrities cleaning the streets have all but disappeared, and the Ice-Bucket-Challenge style of inviting 9 people to clean an area, and they in turn inviting another 9, has all but dissipated, though progress in building rural toilets is better, with access up from 33% in 2011 to 47% today. Of course, Swachh Bharat is not just about building toilets or spreading awareness about the need to use them instead of defecating in the open; it is about maintaining the toilets as well. This means proper access to water—that, in turn, means large urban reforms including making water systems financially viable—and monitoring such facilities through, say, mobile-based apps where users can feed in their feedback on the quality of the facilities 24×7. A large part of the problem of disease in India originates in poor hygiene, and open defecation is a large part of the problem; a disease-free India is about keeping sewage and water pipes, separate, for instance.
Indeed, Swachh Bharat cannot take off in any meaningful sense if the action, and planning, is piecemeal. While discussing the cleaning of the Yamuna some years ago, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found that Delhi generated 2,500 (as per Delhi Jal Board, or DJB) or 3,700 (as per Central Pollution Control Board, or CPCB) million litres a day (mld) of sewage every day—that the DJB and CPCB have such divergent numbers tells its own story— as compared to the sewage treatment plant (STP) capacity of 2,330 mld. Worse, just 35% of the STPs ran at full capacity, 18% ran at 60-90%, 24% at 30-60% and 23% at under 30%—where there were STPs, there was no waste and where there was waste, there was no STP, CSE said. In 2011, Isher Judge Ahluwalia found 4,861 out of India’s 5,161 cities didn’t even have a partial sewerage network and the lack of waste water treatment facilities led to spending $15 billion each year on water-borne diseases. Swachh Bharat needs serious planning and reforms, and musu be married with urban/rural renewal plans—if water, and sewage disposal, is not properly priced, the mission is going nowhere. While just 8 cities, Ahluwalia found, charged to even cover the O&M costs of supplying water, CSE points out that while it cost—at the time it did the study—R5-6 to supply 1,000 litres of water, it costs R30-40 to treat and dispose off the sewage. Sadly, there is little talk of pricing reforms while discussing Swachh Bharat.